“I was able to actually do something useful”: evaluating the experiences of university students after completing Mental Health First Aid: a mixed-methods study
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Objective: Almost 50% of Australians will experience a mental health problem over their lifetime, with those aged 16–24 experiencing the highest prevalence. Among this group, university students have shown to be at higher risk compared to non-students. Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) was established to develop and enhance participant skills to respond appropriately to individuals experiencing mental health problems. This paper describes a mixed-method study measuring the long-term benefits of MHFA among students in a large Western Australian university.
Method: Participants were university students who completed MHFA at least 12-months prior to 2017 (n = 254). Quantitative data was collected using an online questionnaire (n = 73). Chi-square and t-tests were used to determine significance between MHFA actions and other outcome variables. Face-to-face, semi-structured interviews (n = 9) explored participant experiences related to the application of MHFA. A thematic analysis was used to code and theme interview responses.
Results: Associations were found between the “amount of help offered” and confidence (p = 0.02); and with participants who completed MHFA prior to 2016 (p = 0.02). Two overarching themes emerged: challenging experiences (personal investment in the relationship; emotional energy); and positive experiences (confidence; stronger relationships and trust; emotional intelligence).
Discussion: Findings demonstrate improved awareness of mental health problems and confidence among interviewed participants; and associations between MHFA actions and confidence. Participant experiences provided insight into the complexities surrounding university students’ helping behaviours when encountering different situations which should be explored further. MHFA training has a positive long-term impact on mental health literacy among university students, demonstrating the value of this program.
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