• Jody Burrell
Late last year, on behalf of CoLiberate, I traveled up to Auckland to do a Mental Health First Aid Certificate. In that same week, I received the exclusive license from Counties Manukau DHB for CoLiberate to deliver that same Mental Health First Aid Certifications in the Wellington/ Palmerston North Region.

CoLiberate has been chasing this moment for a very long time… it’s something we really really believe in. We think this is a game changer for New Zealand’s Mental Health!

So why is this so gosh darn exciting you might be asking? WELL, GET READY TO HEAR ALL OF THE REASONS WHY I AM SO STOKED TO BE DELIVERING THIS TO NEW ZEALAND.

The story of why…

It was a full two years ago, when I attended your regular First Aid Course for our organisation.  I wanted to be able to deal with any situation that came my way in our Wellbeing studio. So, off I went to get my certificate. Physical first aid is a commonly accepted and a valued thing in our society right? Some workplaces might actually insist you do a First Aid Course for you to be able to work with them. It’s not unlikely that your employer has paid for you to go and do a first aid course… Some of you, like me, may have taken yourself off to do one independent from your work because you just love the feeling of knowing that if you found yourself in a life or death emergency, you might just have the skills to change everything! To save a life?!!!

When I did this First Aid Course two years ago, I found myself asking our instructor over and over again “But what if this was a mental health issue?”…”What do I do if they are having a panic attack??”…”What should I say if someone expresses suicidal ideation?”.. “What if they are having a psychotic episode..?’

I had so many unanswered questions!

The instructor let me know over and over that, that sort of thing wasn’t covered in this course. This made absolutely no sense to me…

    It just doesn’t stack up that New Zealand’s suicide rates are now higher than the road toll, and yet kiwis haven’t yet developed a response muscle for those emergency moments.  


If we aren’t able to talk about saving lives at the mental crisis point in our First Aid Course then when and where can we?  

Where can we talk about what we can do if our loved ones or our community members are experiencing distress? Where can we find out what services exist to refer our friends on to?  

I started to worry that New Zealand might never be able to match the response attitude that members of the public have gained through CPR certificates. The sense of civil duty, the confidence and clear plan of action –  for mental health emergencies.  Opting into a collective culture of support where kiwis everywhere are ready to notice someone in need of urgent mental health response and are equipped with the right steps, seems to me like something New Zealand is crying out for.

We started imagining a Mental Health First Aid Course. We dreamt of normalising mental health so that we’re all no more weird about it than we are about our physical health. We knew that if we were going to make a difference to the stigma that exists around mental crisis, we would need to get a first aid equivalent off the ground, fast.

Where did the certified MHFA come from?


Our research led us to the MHFA, which is an internationally recognised certificate. Mental Health First Aid Australia championed the MHFA based on rigorous scientific studies. Now they have trained up 2 million Mental Health First Aiders world wide. Wow!


I returned from Auckland, fully accredited as a MHFA Instructor, trained by Ko Awatea Health System Innovation and Improvement from the Counties Manukau District Health Board. Ko Awatea has updated the MHFA to be New Zealand relevant, and now it is in our hands, for the first time, to deliver it in the Wellington and Palmerston North region.


The best thing is that the results of the MHFA have already been proven! Check out this quick description…


…Evaluations consistently show that MHFA training is associated with improved knowledge of mental illnesses and their treatments, knowledge of appropriate first aid strategies, and confidence in providing first aid to individuals with mental illness, benefits which are maintained over time. Some studies have also shown improved mental health in those who attend the training, decreases in stigmatising attitudes and increases in the amount and type of support provided to others.”


<<<<MHFA Course Evaluations>>>>

Check out more about the origins of the programme here:

  • Mental Health First Aid Australia | www.mhfa.com.au
  • Ko Awatea, Counties Manukau  |  www.koawatea.co.nz


The other best thing is that we have already trained up 50 people in the region. There are 50 Mental Health First Aiders out there who are equiped to the tools, understanding and confidence to step in and support someone in mental distress. It is awesome!

This was a great workshop! I feel much more confident about supporting people who are experiencing mental illness, and I’ve already used some of the tools from the workshop in the last few days. Thank you also for creating such a safe space to discuss these difficult issues – it was really helpful to have the option to duck out as needed and space to check in with how we were doing as participants. Everyone in New Zealand should go through this training!”
Lauren Peate, Participant.

Now that it’s here and working, what’s the mission?

We are so excited to get more people in the room to practice the hard conversations. To ask the hard questions. To learn together in a safe practice-ground environment about how we can best recognise and respond in the times of need. 

We want this course to be as necessary and common as our regular physical First Aid Course!

It is time for us to move past our blocks, overcome the fear of making things worse, and learn to respond confidently. This training isn’t for professionals. It’s not setting people up to diagnose their friends with mental health conditions or to solve other peoples’ ongoing mental health challenges. This training is for any everyday New Zealander who wants to help. Who wants to reduce the stigma and contribute towards a healthier New Zealand. 


What are we doing in the course?

What we are doing is equipping people the tools and understanding to provide individuals in distress to the appropriate support they need. Especially, in the moments when it might be hardest for people in distress to do so. We are building confidence in individuals to lean into the discomfort of those hard conversations. We are providing a testing ground for the “are you ok?”s and the “Have you had suicidal thoughts?” questions that can be frightening to ask in the moment. We know that these core skills save lives.

At the same time, we’ve got a strong hunch that lifting the mental health literacy of the general public will be a big step towards eliminating the stigma that has attached itself to mental health services and meaningful mental health conversations. I know and have seen that knowledge leads to empathy, and empathy melts shame. That, in turn, leads people to feel more connected, which starts an upward spiral in the fertile soil of mental health challenges.

“Excellent in everyway, best course I have completed”
Ray Tuffin, Participant.

What are your goals for MHFA in Wellington?

We want to see every single workplace in the Wellington to Palmerston North region equipped with at least one certified Mental Health First Aider. Imagine how quickly the impulse to respond well to crisis or distress would spread if someone with the skills to confidently respond was accessible in every work situation.


What can Mental Health First Aiders be proud of?
  1. You are certified for two years with the confidence to respond to mental crisis or distress at any moment. Certificate provided by Mental Health First Aid New Zealand/Aotearoa.
  2. You are actively eliminating the stigma that unfortunately still exists around mental health, by acknowledging the equal relevance of a mental emergency to any other emergency.
  3. You are supporting CoLiberate, a largely volunteer-led young and active social enterprise, to continue its good work in your community.
  4. Contributing towards a safer, healthier, happier New Zealand.
What they say about MHFA

Look forward to working with you in the future as I see this as vital to everyone in our homes and workspaces.

Mark Hobbs, NZ PoliceMental Health First Aider

This was a great workshop and it reiterated/clarified a lot of presumptions I already had about helping someone through mental illness/crisis. It also helped get rid of some of my stigmas around talking about mental crisis eg. Suicidal discussion (and how it is ok and should be discussed more).

KatieMental Health First Aider

“Excellent in every way, best course I have completed”

Ray TuffinMental Health First Aider

I thought I already had a pretty good handle on what mental health issues look like, but the MHFA course has really helped me to better understand the ways in which mental health crises can manifest themselves, and know how to respond. In a time when mental health disorders seem to be more prevalent than ever, I can't recommend this course enough.

AlinaMental Health First Aider

This was a challenging but superb course which covered a lot of material in a short time frame. It needs to be an integral part of all training programmes in large Corporate entities in NZ.

JudithMental Health Fist Aider
Become a Mental Health First Aider