Medical students face many barriers to seeking out professional help for their mental health, including stigma relating to mental illness, and often prefer to seek support and advice from fellow students. Improving medical students’ mental health literacy and abilities to support someone experiencing a mental health problem could reduce barriers to help seeking and improve mental health in this population. Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is an evidence-based intervention designed to improve mental health literacy and ability to respond to someone with a mental health problem. This pilot randomised controlled trial aims to evaluate the MHFA eLearning course in UK medical students.
Fifty-five medical students were randomised to receive six weeks access to the MHFA eLearning course ( n = 27) or to a no-access control group ( n = 28). Both groups completed baseline (pre-randomisation) and follow-up (six weeks post-randomisation) online questionnaires measuring recognition of a mental health problem, mental health first aid intentions, confidence to help a friend experiencing a mental health problem, and stigmatising attitudes. Course feedback was gathered at follow-up.
More participants were lost follow-up in the MHFA group (51.9%) compared to control (21.4%). Both intention-to-treat (ITT) and non-ITT analyses showed that the MHFA intervention improved mental health first aid intentions ( p = <.001) and decreased stigmatising attitudes towards people with mental health problems ( p = .04). While ITT analysis found no significant Group x Time interaction for confidence to help a friend, the non-ITT analysis did show the intervention improved confidence to help a friend with mental health problems ( p = <.001), and improved mental health knowledge ( p = .003). Medical students in the intervention group reported a greater number of actual mental health first aid actions at follow-up ( p = .006). Feedback about the MHFA course was generally positive, with participants stating it helped improve their knowledge and confidence to help someone.
This pilot study demonstrated the potential for the MHFA eLearning course to improve UK medical students’ mental health first aid skills, confidence to help a friend and stigmatising attitudes. It could be useful in supporting their own and others’ mental health while studying and in their future healthcare careers.
Retrospectively registered ( ISRCTN11219848).