Mental Health First Aid at the Wellcome Trust

Employers across the UK are failing to provide adequate support to employees or equip managers with the skills to help them, finds the Mental Health at Work report released this week. More than three quarters (77%) of employees have experienced symptoms of poor mental health in their lives, with managers underequipped and unsupported to respond to mental health in work. With World Mental Health Day on 10th October, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England is calling on employers to find out how they can support the mental wellbeing of their staff.

Mental Health First Aid is the mental health equivalent of a physical first aid course and in the run up to the day itself MHFA England is leading on the goal of increasing the number of Mental Health First Aiders across the country, and reducing the stigma often associated with mental ill health.

One organisation training staff in Mental Health First Aid is the largest medical research charity, the Wellcome Trust. Here, Natasha Gordon, Project Manager in People and Facilities at Wellcome, tells us why mental health is a vital part of the charity’s HR strategy.

At Wellcome we fund global research to drive reform and advance ideas with the aim to improve health for everyone. The charity employs 700 staff, including sub-contractors at our office in Euston, London.

The nature of our work means we take our wellbeing initiatives seriously and we are wholly committed to ensuring the health and wellbeing of our staff. One way in which we are demonstrating this commitment is through training staff in Mental Health First Aid. I attended Mental Health First Aid training in a previous role, so when I joined Wellcome, I volunteered to lead on co-ordinating the same training for staff at my new place of work. It is important that Wellcome, which has a number of external facing mental health research funding initiatives, is committed to the same ethos internally.

Mental Health First Aid is part of our broader strategy for wellbeing at Wellcome, with particular focus on prevention, intervention and rehabilitation. Whilst the commitment to Mental Health First Aid comes from the top with the whole of our Senior Leadership Team having completed the half day awareness course, training opportunities are open to everyone, whatever their role. We arrange the dates and advertise them on our intranet. Additionally we put posters up and hand out flyers.

All employees at Wellcome are given the opportunity to attend Mental Health First Aid training sessions. We have found managers are keen to have the tools which enable them to start a meaningful conversation around mental health with their staff. Generally middle management can be more difficult to get buy-in from with this type of initiative, so their interest in learning the tools is great progress. The results of conversations are all logged confidentially with details of what signposting was given, this way we can see if there is any common denominating feedback, which we can act on as an employer.

After successfully piloting Mental Health First Aid in September 2015, we now have 90 employees who have completed awareness training and 40 who are fully qualified Mental Health First Aiders. “We don’t have a cap on how many employees are trained in Mental Health First Aid. So far we have matched the number of physical first aiders and many of our physical first aiders have also had Mental Health First Aid training.

We ensure the commitment to rolling out Mental Health First Aid is apparent at every level of the business. Whilst the training is not compulsory, we HR colleagues and business partners are strongly advised to take part in the training, and this extends to our sub-contractors. Support staff play a role too, with Mental Health First Aiders at the onsite gym, which is run by an external provider. The security team employed directly by us are also trained in Mental Health First Aid with at least one security guard on duty at all times, and the staff who work at the Wellcome Collection next door will also be taking the training in the near future.

During September we hosted ‘black dog table’ events. This involved a mental health table in the staff restaurant where members of the Mental Health First Aid network sat every lunchtime to open up discussion channels around mental health at work. We are also compiling a speaker series with confirmed speakers including a clinical psychologist and a Mental Health First Aid speaker in the run up to World Mental Health Day.

We’ve also been leaving out place cards for staff to fill in before and after meetings, asking questions about how mentally healthy they feel, how they are feeling generally and whether they have noticed an increase or a decrease in their mental health, and if so if they have utilised the Mental Health First Aid network.

Additionally, in the lead up to World Mental Health Day and running until January, Wellcome Collection is opening ‘Bedlam: the asylum and beyond.’ This exhibition explores the history of the asylum and how it has shaped today’s complex mental health landscape. Due to the challenging nature of the material, exhibition staff underwent mental health awareness training and the space has been designed to consider the needs of visitors who may feel affected by it. A Mental Health First Aider network will also be on hand to support members of the public as needed.

For more guidance around how to approach and respond to a colleague who may be experiencing a mental health issue download the free Line Managers’ Resource at

To find out how employers can support the wellbeing of their staff and demonstrate their commitment to World Mental Health Day, visit and download the free MHFA England Take 10 Together toolkit.