An Garda Síochána Announces New Mental Health Initiative with Mental Health First Aid Ireland

Partnership will see the training of Garda personnel in Mental Health First Aid as part of the organisation’s commitment to health and wellbeing

Donal Scanlon, Manager, Mental Health First Aid Ireland; Emma Balmaine, Chief Executive, St John of God Hospital; Commissioner of An Garda Síochána, Drew Harris and Dr. Oghenovo Oghuvbu, Chief Medical Officer, An Garda Síochána at the signing of a new two year partnership agreement between Mental Health First Aid Ireland and An Garda Síochána at Phoenix Park Headquarters this weekend.

Monday, 3rd July 2023: An Garda Síochána have today announced an initial 2-year partnership with Mental Health First Aid Ireland. The project will see Garda personnel throughout the country completing Mental Health First Aid Ireland certified training courses over the next 2 years.

The aim is to provide Gardaí with a better understanding of mental health, to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health, and to help participants to recognise when someone may be in difficulty or in crisis with their mental health. This will have applications and benefits in supporting their own wellbeing, their peers and also when dealing with members of the public.

The An Garda Síochána Health Needs Assessment Survey in 2019 identified mental health wellbeing as a priority for Garda personnel. According to a recent report from the Department of Health, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a damaging effect on people’s mental health; therefore, now is a critical time for an initiative like this.

This partnership comes as part of the commitments set out by the An Garda Síochána Health and Wellbeing Strategy 2021 to 2025 to deliver various training and interventions to engender and support good mental health in the workplace. Providing Mental Health First Aid training to all personnel has specifically been cited is a critical step in this journey. One of the strategy’s priorities was towards mental health and post incident support pathways, with an importance being placed on challenging the stigmas surrounding mental health within the Gardaí.

In 2022, the Garda National Wellbeing Office (GNWO) delivered five pilot MHFA training course involving staff across sections and ranks/grades in the organisation. Following a very positive review of the pilot programme, a decision was made to roll out this programme to the whole organisation. Funding has now been approved to deliver the programme for An Garda Síochána and this will enable MHFA Ireland Instructors to deliver a facilitated train-the-trainer programme to provide accredited MHFA Instructors  for An Garda Síochána and fund the rollout of MHFA training to all Garda personnel.

Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee T.D – “I welcome the roll-out of this training across the Garda organisation which will better support Gardaí in terms of their own mental health needs, but also better support Gardaí in engaging with some of the most vulnerable in our society who often have complex needs. This can be, in and of itself, a sometimes harrowing and stressful element of the daily work of Gardaí.

This training is in tandem with the work Gardaí have been doing helping implement the recommendations of the High Level Taskforce on the mental health and addiction challenges of persons interacting with the criminal justice system, which sets out the multi-agency approach to be taken to rehabilitating and diverting offenders with addiction or mental health challenges away from crime.”

Garda Commissioner, Mr. Drew Harris – “Every day, Gardaí are responding to complex and often difficult incidents that can present unique challenges to their mental health and wellbeing.

“I recognise this and want to do all we can to help Garda personnel feel supported to share their feelings or stress in the workplace. The MHFA partnership will help us further achieve this and help show more and more Gardaí that it is a sign of strength to be able open up.

“It is the nature of a lot of the work of Gardaí that they engage with very many of those who may be experiencing a dip in their mental health or are in the midst of a mental health crisis – this training will also strengthen their professional understanding of always assisting with respect, empathy and compassion.”

Dr. Oghenovo Oghuvbu, Chief Medical Officer, An Garda Síochána – “The Garda Mental Health First Aid Programme provides An Garda Síochána with an evidence supported programme that has the potential to change the way we view mental health, talk about mental health and support mental health in the workplace.

“It also promotes organisational mental health resilience alongside other supports in line with the Garda Health and Wellbeing Strategy 2021 – 2025.”

Emma Balmaine, CEO St John of God Hospital which has responsibility for Mental Health First Aid Ireland organisation – “The issue of mental health in our society is very important and we are delighted to partner with An Garda Síochána to help and support each other and members of the public to give assistance to those in emotional distress. We commend An Garda Síochána for leading the way and being the first police force in the European Union to embed mental health first aid training throughout the organisation and to tackle stigma in a positive way”

Donal Scanlan, Manager, Mental Health First Aid Ireland – “I hope this partnership between MHFA Ireland and An Garda Síochána, will help An Garda Síochána in pursuing its mission of keeping people safe by helping its members, at all levels, to look after their own mental health, challenge the stigma surrounding mental health and improve their understanding of mental health issues in their interactions with the community”

About Saint John of God Hospital and Mental Health First Aid Ireland

Saint John of God Hospital is a not-for-profit, independent provider of mental health services. In May 2014 the Hospital signed a Memorandum of Understanding with MHFA International to adapt the course for Ireland and in 2016 MHFA Ireland officially launched and has since trained over 17,000 people in both Youth MHFA and Adult MHFA across the public and private service, including over 400 Gardaí, the Defence Forces, ESB, Irish Water and the Bon Secours Hospital Group.

About Mental Health First Aid

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is the initial help given to someone when developing a mental health problem, a reoccurrence of an existing mental health problem or who is in a mental health crisis. The first aid is given until appropriate professional support is received or until the crises resolves. Mental Health First Aid is an internationally recognised evidence-supported programme. It has been adopted and is used by a number of police services around the world.  Mental Health First Aid has been shown to be effective in improving levels of mental health literacy, reducing stigma and improving help-giving behaviours.

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