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Mental Health First Aid Course Review


Mental Health First Aid Course for Veterinary Professionals

When we think about first aid,  physical first aid is what first comes to mind (especially in our profession). But what about mental health first aid? Veterinary professionals are at higher risk of suicide than the general population, so taking care of our own mental health and recognising the challenges faced by others is paramount. 


The Australian Veterinary Association’s Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) course teaches vets and nurses working in veterinary practice how to provide initial support to those who are developing a mental illness or experiencing a mental health crisis. 


Just like physical first aid, mental health first aid is given until the person receives professional help or until the immediate crisis resolves.


That’s why Hill’s supports the delivery of the MHFA course to veterinary health care professionals.  A number of Hill’s Professional Veterinary Affairs (PVA) team members have participated in this important initiative and I was lucky to have been one of them. 


By completing the MHFA course, I learned some of the skills required to assist a person who may be suffering from mental health issues, and gained greater insight into how these issues are affecting vet professionals and their teams.

What did the MHFA course cover?

Course participants learnt how to recognise the signs and symptoms of common and disabling mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse.   


The course also covered how to provide initial assistance; where and how to access professional help; what sort of help has been shown by research to be effective; and how to provide first aid in a crisis situation (e.g. suicidal thoughts and behaviours, self-injury, panic attacks, traumatic events).

The 5 step action plan.

The MHFA course is based on a simple 5 step action plan. Role plays and some excellent video scenarios helped the participants feel more comfortable with assisting a person who may be developing or suffering from mental health issues.

The 5 step action plan outlined below was designed to help navigate a conversation and provide support around mental health problems. 


  1. Approach the person, assess  and assist with any crisis
  2. Listen and communicate  
  3. Give support and information
  4. Encourage the person to get appropriate professional help
  5. Encourage other strategies

It is during the early intervention phase that giving mental health first aid can play an important role. Recognising the signs and approaching a person about your concerns may help avoid more serious mental health problems and reduce the likelihood of secondary effects such as loss of employment, relationship break ups or drug and alcohol problems.

Hill’s PVA Team Review.

The Hill’s Australian PVA team members who participated in the MHFA courses highly recommend the program to veterinary health care team members and anyone who is interested in assisting with Mental Health First Aid. I personally found the course very insightful, gaining a much deeper understanding of mental health issues and would certainly feel more confident approaching the conversation with someone I had concerns about.


 I did a blended course and was sent a manual style hard copy book. This provided some pre-reading and a useful resource I could refer back to while doing the online course.


The online course components had engaging videos of scenarios where I was asked to think about how I would handle each situation. After completing the online course, a group of eight vets and nurses (and a practice manager) met with the instructor over zoom for three one hour sessions. These sessions provided further learning and discussion with like-minded vet professionals facing similar work place issues in similar environments.


The final part was the certification where I completed some tests and filled in a feedback survey.

Certified Mental Health First Aiders Logo

Overall, the course was very engaging, relevant, and I could do the pre-work at a time that suited me best. The hard copy manual is a fantastic resource which I have referred to many times.   I also joined a closed Facebook Group for Certified Mental Health First Aiders so I can continue to learn from others.


In total, the course took approximately 12-14 hours to complete. Just like keeping a first-aid certificate up to date, I will need to do a four-hour refresher course every 3 years to remain current.


On completion the course you can display the Mental Health First Aider Accreditation logo to let your team members know you are available for an initial confidential conversation.

How does Hill’s support help?

If you would like to participate in the MHFA course with other vet professionals you can find the AVA run MHFA courses here. 


For further information and additional courses visit Mental Health First Aid Australia.


If you or a family member is in need of mental health and crisis support you can also contact:


Lifeline Australia: For 24/7 Crisis Support- Phone: 13 11 14


Beyond Blue: Phone 1300224636


Beyond Blue Women: Phone 1300224636 

A great tip is to put the Lifeline phone number into your contacts in your mobile phone as you never know when you might need it to help others or maybe even yourself.

Rae Schafer-Evans, Cert VN, Acc Delta Trainer, Cert IV Bus, Professional Engagement Executive, Hill’s Pet Nutrition Australia

Rae started her working life as a Veterinary Nurse and worked in Small Animal practice. She has had various roles whilst employed with Hill’s Pet Nutrition and has always had a passion for behaviour. Rae’s passion is not only pets but veterinary nurses, she has developed the Hill’s National Veterinary Nurse Program and coordinates Hill’s Australia vet nurse CE programmes both online and offline with many being replicated throughout Hill’s globally. She is currently working with industry partners to encourage more nurses into the consult room to enhance client and patient care, vet nurse job satisfaction and to free up the veterinarian’s time. Rae is also a Mental Health First Aider.