The City of Maroondah offers the best of city and country in the leafy surrounds of Melbourne’s east. Providing support to the region’s carer and volunteer population became the springboard to a community-wide commitment to Mental Health First Aid®.
The City of Maroondah’s Mental Health First Aid (MHFA™) training offering is a testament to the power of community.
With the Maroondah City Council leading the charge, several local organisations joined Council to provide MHFA training in a planned, integrated and sustainable way.
Their efforts have led to recognition as a Mental Health First Aid Australia Champion Community, showcasing the benefit of local councils, organisations, groups and individuals coming together with a shared mission to improve the mental health and well-being of its people.
From carers and volunteers to the broader community
Maroondah City Council first turned to Mental Health First Aid Australia in 2016 when it recognised a need to provide support to its carers and volunteers. Carers and volunteers represented a significant portion of Maroondah’s population, with almost 10 per cent providing unpaid assistance to a person with disability, long-term illness or old age, and 17 per cent performing some type of voluntary work.
Conversations from the carer community painted a picture of a demographic in need of mental health support, with research telling the same story. A study published by Deakin University revealed that carers had the lowest collective well-being of any group with 56% of carers reported as having at least moderate depression, prompting Council to step into action.
“We wanted to acknowledge the efforts of our carers and volunteers by providing free MHFA training specifically aimed at these cohorts,” says Fiona Burridge, Be Kind Maroondah Facilitator.
The training aimed to improve their mental well-being, increase their understanding of mental health, and provide them with the tools to support the mental health of others.
The initial focus on supporting carers and volunteers in the community became the springboard to the city’s wide-reaching MHFA training program. With each course filling quickly and waitlists growing, the message from the community was clear: the MHFA training was vital, necessary, and widely relevant.
To help meet the growing demand for MHFA training across the broader population, Council teamed up with local service providers to continue the momentum. Also offering the courses in the area are the Salvation Army, Villa Maria Catholic Homes, Tintern Grammar, ANCA Group and the Eastern Health Child & Youth Mental Health Service. With this wide range of local service providers onboard, the training has been able to reach more diverse populations across the community.
The success of the program has been elevated by the support of local organisations, such as EACH. EACH provides a range of health, disability, counselling and mental health services to the Maroondah community, including a support service for those trained in MHFA.
With the onset of COVID-19 and growing mental health needs in the community, Neami National, a community-based organisation providing services to improve mental health and wellbeing, contributed to Council’s program by providing a Licensed MHFA Instructor to deliver courses in the community. In 2023, Council plans to partner with a local community house to provide further training to those in need.
A groundswell of support across the region
Since it commenced in 2016, both the Standard (adult to adult) and Youth (adults supporting young people) MHFA training has been delivered to more than 1,200 people. In just the past three years, the region has run more than 130 courses in total.
The Council is continuously evaluating the outcomes of its MHFA training through participant feedback, which helps to shape the program and build an evidence base to ensure it remains part of their long-term community well-being strategy.
The feedback has been invaluable in demonstrating the success of the training. For one participant, the MHFA course enabled them to raise difficult subjects and have a conversation with someone in need.
They said: “With a little further information and resources, as provided in the course material, we can help support others without having to be the ‘fixer’ of the issue or situation.”
Local organisations across the City of Maroondah have shown their support for the MHFA training. Since the training commenced seven years ago, Council has trained 50 local service providers, with participants from Different Journeys, The Freedom Initiative, community houses, disability groups, cultural groups, local churches, schools, sporting clubs and more. Organisations can nominate up to two representatives per course to ensure Council can provide the benefit of this training to as many groups as possible.
One participant said that after just the first day of their MHFA training, they had already used the course information with scout leaders and family, highlighting the immediate impact that training and improved mental health literacy and skills can have on supporting others.
An ongoing commitment to wellbeing
Improving the mental well-being and mental health literacy of the Maroondah community remains high on Council’s radar. Its commitment to mental well-being features in Council’s Maroondah Liveability Wellbeing and Resilience Strategy 2021–23. As part of its ‘Healthy living’ pillar, it aims to promote awareness of mental health, build the capacity of its community to navigate mental health challenges, and work in partnership using prevention and strength-based approaches to building the resilience and enhancing the well-being of its community.
It was this ongoing commitment to mental health prevention and early intervention by Council, in tandem with local organisations, that led to the recognition of Maroondah as a Mental Health First Aid Australia Champion Community.
Fiona Burridge says: “This recognition shows Council’s and supporting partners’ dedication to improving the mental health and well-being of our members as we work together to build an empowered, supported, mentally healthy community.”
“It has allowed us to destigmatise mental health by opening up opportunities for honest and meaningful conversations on mental illness.”
Fiona sees the support across Council and organisations as an ongoing effort.
“The more community members that are trained in MHFA, the greater the reach of mental health support at a grassroots level.”