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Mental health first aid added to Northampton nursing course curriculum

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Student nurses of all disciplines at the University of Northampton will be taught skills in mental health “first aid” to help them spot crucial warning signs of problems like depression and anxiety in both themselves and their patients.

The university’s faculty of health and society will make the topic part of the curriculum for all undergraduate nursing courses this October, following a successful trial with around 100 students.

“Nurses are on the frontline supporting people in all kinds of situations who may be vulnerable to experiencing mental ill health”

Emma Dillon

The aim is to create a nursing workforce with the confidence and ability to recognise the symptoms of common psychological issues, and guide people to the right support early before they escalate.

The course, equivalent to those in physical first aid, also empowers students to look after their own mental health.

With investment from the university, 14 nursing lecturers have been trained as mental health first aid instructors and they will teach the course to students in their first year of study. The team is aiming to train more than 300 mental health first aiders each year.

Emma Dillon, senior lecturer in mental health nursing and one of the first at Northampton University to become an instructor, praised the scheme, which is led by Mental Health First Aid England.

She said: “Mental health first aid training is helping our faculty to create a new generation of nurses attuned to both the mental and physical health of those they come into contact with.

“From patients, to those they work with in community settings, nurses are on the frontline supporting people in all kinds of situations who may be vulnerable to experiencing mental ill health,” said Ms Dillon.

“It’s therefore crucial that they are given adequate training from the outset to know how to spot early warning signs of mental ill health, to provide support on a first aid basis, and also to understand how to support their own mental health,” she said.

“This adds to the growing recognition of a need for mental health training to form a core part of the nursing curriculum”

Caroline Hounsell

Ms Dillon added: “By providing mental health first aid training to undergraduate nursing students across all disciplines we hope to enhance approaches to early intervention within the profession and equip our students to better support the communities they will be working in.”

The introduction of the course at the University of Northampton will coincide with the implementation of the new Nursing and Midwifery Council standards of proficiency, which put greater weight on competence from all nurses in mental health care.

The mental health first aid scheme is also being rolled out to healthcare students at Coventry University.

Caroline Hounsell, youth lead and director at Mental Health First Aid England, said it was “fantastic” to see Northampton join the movement.

She added: “This new development adds to the growing recognition within higher education of a need for mental health training to form a core part of the nursing curriculum.

“Nurses face so many challenges as they enter the profession today, but by empowering them with mental health first aid skills, we can ensure they are equipped with the knowledge and confidence to act as a first point of contact for those experiencing mental ill health,” said Ms Hounsell.

Geraldine Walters, director of education and standards at the NMC, welcomed the university’s decision to add mental health first aid training to its nursing curriculum. 

She said: “When we were developing our new pre-registration nursing standards with our stakeholders, many were keen to see more emphasis on mental health across all of the fields of nursing. It is really encouraging that universities like Northampton are ahead of the game.”

The course does not train people to be therapists or psychiatrists but rather encourages them to become mental health advocates.

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