Rotary clubs have long been associated with positive community engagement, and humanitarian projects that address persistent community challenges. Their commitment to community extends globally across issues from health to the environment and supporting the vulnerable who need a helping hand. In the Blue Mountains region, Central Blue Mountains Rotary has been highly active since 1976 and in 2019, they raised funds to put towards mental health projects. This saw them embark on a strategy that focussed on long-term holistic well-being. Mental Health First Aid training became a key component of the strategy as they looked to equip their community with the skills and knowledge to support each other.
In recent years, this focus has shifted to supporting community mental health in the aftermath of devastating Black Summer bushfires, regional flooding, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Rotary set about identifying people to undertake Mental Health First Aid Instructor training, including members of the Rural Fire Service, Rotarians and other community leaders and volunteers. With additional funding raised by Central Blue Mountains Rotary and a grant from a Rotary Bushfire Relief Fund, they were able to fund 12 participants, and work with Mental Health First Aid Australia who sponsored an additional 4 participants.
“Initially we intended to fund Mental Health First Aid training for community members, but then we realised that if we funded Instructors instead, and they delivered the courses on our behalf, it would have a multiplier effect, that would reach more people in need,” explains Jennifer Scott, manager for the Rotary project.
The new Mental Health First Aid Instructors became an essential resource with the onset of COVID-19 in early 2020, within a community already experiencing significant challenges to mental health and wellbeing from bushfires and floods. More than ever, they needed community-based options for vulnerable and marginalised people who might not otherwise be getting the support they needed. While the need was vital, the timing presented challenges to overcome.
Meeting needs and rising to challenge
For the Rotary Club of Central Blue Mountains, establishing a network of new Mental Health First Aid Instructors during disaster recovery efforts and rapidly changing pandemic conditions, presented both opportunity and challenge.
“The early stages were always going to be a learning curve, but our Instructors had to start delivering courses while navigating lockdowns and various scheduling interruptions. It wasn’t easy, but the dedication of these individuals, and the flexibility of the course, made it achievable,” explains Rotarian Ian Scott.
Working with Rotary clubs, churches, not-for-profit organisations, and volunteer-based groups, the Instructors have been able to run 30 courses, successfully training 297 MHFAiders. These MHFAiders are now equipped with the skills, knowledge, and confidence to recognise and respond to a friend, family member or another community member experiencing a mental health problem or mental health crisis.
Members of Central Blue Mountains Rotary delivering rugged eskies to Lawson Rural Fire Brigade.
Quickly realising the community benefits
Mental Health First Aid Australia has provided Rotary with a practical skills-based model that can be applied across a diverse range of community settings. As an organisation that actively collaborates with other service providers and community organisations, Rotary was also able to offer a strategic approach to connecting first responders within the community, with those needing support.
Continuing to lead by example has meant training from within their own ranks with seven Rotarians now trained as MHFAiders.
“Our Rotarians who have undergone the training, point to its power of building awareness of mental health issues, reducing stigma, and arming them with tools to support others. Many have reported that they almost immediately started to use their new skills with friends and family, who needed support,” explains Ian Scott.
Discussions with local participants has also pointed to the attitudinal changes that routinely take place after engagement with Mental Health First Aid training. These changes help improve broader mental health literacy and empathy.
“Some of the participants have expressed how the course has positively changed them, and the way they think about mental health issues and the people who experience them. This creates a more understanding, inclusive and respectful community from the outset” Ian Scott continues.
Delivery of Mental Health First Aid training to community members.
“As we have been rolling out the courses, we’ve been hearing about the demand for Youth and Older Person’s Mental Health First Aid. Prevention and intervention are really important with these age groups, so we are going to up-skill our MHFA Instructors to deliver those courses. We are also going to keep looking for opportunities to identify and train new Instructors”.
Rotarian Instructor Michelle Ellery.
Creating sustainable change for the future
Utilising place based MHFA Instructors who can harness local knowledge and networks while addressing real community issues, makes Mental Health First Aid training a practical and applicable option for communities around Australia. In regional areas, where resources may be more limited (comparative to metropolitan counterparts), this is often essential to long-term sustainability and systemic change. This approach also works hand-in-hand with the positive community spirit and innate resilience often found in these communities.
“The MHFA Instructors now operating here in the Blue Mountains have a wealth of knowledge and experience between them. They’ve become a valuable community asset that has built the ongoing capacity for broader well-being” says Jennifer Scott.
The next step for Rotary and the Blue Mountains is to continue responding to existing and emerging mental health needs. This will mean supporting targeted audiences and ensuring that the pool of MHFA Instructors can keep up with the demand for training.
“As we have been rolling out the courses, we’ve been hearing about the demand for Youth and Older Person’s Mental Health First Aid. Prevention and intervention are really important with these age groups, so we are going to up-skill our MHFA Instructors to deliver those courses. We are also going to keep looking for opportunities to identify and train new Instructor” explains Rotarian Instructor Michelle Ellery.
Rotary Club of Central Blue Mountains have been so pleased with success of the program, that they are now looking to share their knowledge and experience and have begun discussions with Rotary clubs around the country, to talk about the project, and encourage rollout into other communities. This is evidence of the Mental Health First Aid movement in action – supporting better mental health, community by community.
Members of Central Blue Mountains Rotary stocking up food for their Food Relief Program.
The Rotary Club of Central Blue Mountains is another example of a community-based organisation making real change through Mental Health First Aid. To find out more about how these programs can support your organisation, group or community visit https://mhfa.com.au/community.
If you would like to learn more about the Rotary Club of Central Blue Mountains and the work they are doing in the community, please visit:
Find out more about the Mental Health First Aid Australia Champion Communities Program here.
If you are interested in recognising your community’s commitment to MHFA training through participation in the program, please contact the Mental Health First Aid Australia Community Engagement Team: email@example.com.