Mental Health First Aid Australia’s story began in 2000 when the first course was delivered to a small group in Canberra. It has since evolved into a global movement with the program now adopted in more than 25 countries, with more than 6 million people now trained worldwide.
Established in Canberra in 2000, Mental Health First Aid was the brainchild of Betty Kitchener AM and her husband Professor Tony Jorm. In the early days, the course was developed to fill a community gap for practical mental health training, that would parallel the first-aid training provided for physical health.
Starting small, with a standard course for adults, the program initially focused on sustainable testing and growth, while winning over support from collaborators, funders and participants.
Within five years there were more than 300 MHFA Instructors nationally, the program had won several funding grants, and courses were being delivered in all states and territories across Australia.
Over this same period of time, international interest in MHFA training increased, and the program was taken up gradually by other countries around the world.
In Australia, our focus turned to adapting the program for more specific audience groups and tailoring length, delivery mode and resource materials. From humble beginnings, Mental Health First Aid was fast becoming a recognised part of the mental health sector.
An early vision based on best evidence
Mental Health First Aid has risen to become one of the most trusted, evidence based mental health education programs in Australia and internationally.
Evaluation has always been a key focus of the program. The first randomised control trial of MHFA training was conducted in NSW in 2001. Since then, the program has been extensively evaluated and reported on through various trials, peer review and expert consensus within Australia and overseas.
Our commitment to research, evaluation and understanding the impact of training for participants and communities, is still at the forefront of our vision and delivery today.
Mobility and Growth
From local to national, from national to international – over the past two decades, Mental Health First Aid has expanded its reach in communities, workplaces, schools and tertiary settings across the globe.
Through the dedication of this global community, more than 6 million people now have the skills to recognise and respond to someone experiencing a mental health problem, creating a groundswell of conversations, connection and support.
For individual MHFAiders, this means improved knowledge, skills and confidence in recognising and responding to mental health problems in someone they know. For Australia, it means a broader safety net of support for the millions of Australians experiencing mental illness, trauma, crises, and suicidality.
Onward and Upward
Without forgetting our roots or our purpose, Mental Health First Aid is now committed to the future. This means understanding and responding to changing community needs and the mental health sector.
Moving forward, we will continue to value access, diversity, inclusion, lived-experience, capacity building and best evidence. We will look for new ways to expand our reach as we strive to ensure that every school, workplace, and local community group has access to peer-based support and improved mental health literacy.
Help us achieve our vision of a world where we all have the skills to support people experiencing mental health problems.
Timeline of MHFA Over the Decades
1997 - The idea is sparked!
2000 – 2001 Birth of MHFA
The First MHFA course is developed and piloted. The MHFA Program is officially established, and the first trials begin.
2002 – 2005
Instructors are now being trained across all Australian states and territories, and interest and adoption begins in other countries (starting with Scotland and Hong Kong).
2006 – 2007
Over 50,000 MHFA manuals disseminated since inception. Research translated into guidelines for how to help people with different mental health disorders. Programs adapted for linguistically and culturally diverse groups and young people.
2008 – 2009
MHFA wins its first awards internationally and domestically and Founder, Betty Kitchener is awarded the Order of Australia Medal (OAM).
2010 – 2011
International recognition of ‘radical efficiency’ is received from researchers. Expansion into Australia’s regional, rural and remote communities continues. MHFA reaches 170,000 First Aiders in its first decade– 1% of the Australian adult population.
2012 – 2013
Organisational resources and operations expand significantly to meet demand. MHFA is added to SAMHSA’s National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices (NREPP).
A peak time for evaluation in Australia and internationally. Swedish researchers publish a systematic review and meta-analysis of 15 of the major MHFA trials with positive results. Former US President Barack Obama recommends funding for MHFA youth programs.
2016 – 2019
Over 4 million people have been trained world-wide, in over 25 countries by 50,000 Instructors. Australia has over 3,000 accredited MHFA Instructors, with over 900,000 people equipped with training.