Imperial College London

Imperial's community of Mental Health First Aiders


man standing with Queen's Tower in background

Dr Colin Cotter, one of Imperial's Mental Health First Aiders

Imperial now has over 250 Mental Health First Aiders who are trained to step in and give immediate help to others while at work.

Imperial launched a programme to train staff to become Mental Health First Aiders in 2013. Now, over 250 staff have undertaken this specialist training, which equips staff to provide help to someone experiencing a mental health problem before professional help is obtained. Mental Health First Aiders can be recognised by the green lanyard they wear.

Lasting two days, the training course starts with an introduction to what mental health is, and then covers suicide, anxiety and depression, and psychosis. The course aims to help participants learn to spot the early signs of a mental health problem, guide someone towards the right support, and reduce the stigma of mental health problems.

The Mental Health First Aider scheme is part of the College’s support for mental health.

Imperial’s Provost, Professor James Stirling, said: “The promotion of good mental health for our community should no longer be seen as an optional extra, but as a matter of strategic importance for the College.

“Promoting good mental health and a healthy work-life balance is a key priority for us as we look to build support for students and for staff.

“I’m really pleased to see staff taking this positive step to help both staff and students and I’d encourage other people to consider signing up.”

For future training courses, the College is keen to encourage staff in academic and research roles and those based outside South Kensington to apply. The aim is to ensure a more even distribution of trained staff across campuses and job types, to better support staff in all areas of the College.

"The course gives you a set of tools"

Dr Colin Cotter is Reader in Numerical Analysis and Scientific Computing in the Department of Mathematics, and one of Imperial’s Mental Health First Aiders.

He said: “I was Senior Tutor for our department for several years. A lot of the problems I was supporting students with had mental health aspects to them, and I didn’t always feel very well prepared to respond.

“I really recommend the course – it gives you a set of tools for dealing with different situations. As with physical first aid, you’re not supposed to be the doctor – it’s about making sure someone who is unwell is looked after as well as you can until the experts arrive.

“One of the things we discussed on the course was how to help a student who is having a panic attack. The advice is very specific and quite different from what I’d heard – breathing into a paper bag is actually not a good idea. Instead, you should help the person control their breathing by asking them to breathe in and out following the motions of your arm up and down.

“Now, when I hear about people needing advice I feel more able to step in. I’m more confident about who they should talk to for more help and the issues to be aware of.

“There is good ongoing support in place for the First Aiders after the training finishes – there’s a mailing list and regular meetings to share experiences and get help and support.”


Elizabeth Nixon

Elizabeth Nixon
Communications and Public Affairs

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Equality, Strategy-staff-community, Mental-health
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