The power to connect 

14 May 2024

Who wouldn’t want to learn potentially lifesaving skills, at work, in a structured, accessible way, that’s good for you too? Ingeus Learning and Development Specialist, Lesley Ozwell explains how learning mental health first aid skills is ‘a gift’ and why Learning at Work Week and Mental Health Awareness Week (both 13 - 19 May 2024) go together so well.   

Joining Ingeus 14 years ago to train young people on our employability programmes was a complete change of tack for me, but I can honestly say I’ve never looked back. In 2015 I was given the opportunity to train as an Ingeus mental health first aider and for me, it was a career defining and life changing experience.   

Learning the skills to help someone at a low point in life was a privilege and led me to specialise in mental health training as part of Ingeus’ wider learning and development team. The student became the teacher; I undertook Mental Health First Aid England’s specialist training to become an accredited instructor and now deliver training to colleagues across Ingeus.  

I’m thrilled when I see the popularity of learning mental health first aid skills at work. We know that supporting vulnerable people on our programmes is not always an easy task. Like any commercial business, we have objectives to achieve and due to the nature of our contracts, change is never far away. More than 13% of our colleagues have a declared disability and while our culture prioritises self-care, we’re mindful of the fact that every year one in four of us will experience a mental health problem. Wellbeing sits centre stage at Ingeus and we now have 370 qualified mental health first aiders across the business.  

We don’t train people to diagnose, more to recognise symptoms of mental tension, offer peer-to-peer support to anyone struggling, and provide an appropriate intervention.   


I think increased awareness of mental health has made people curious. Yes of course, Ingeus managers want to know how best to support their team members, and frontline colleagues want skills to help our participants, but learners also personally benefit. Learning at work boosts self-confidence, self-esteem and helps foster connections with others. I see it every day. It helps people develop a growth mindset, offers new perspectives, and put simply, gives you a buzz. It helps us be more productive, gives us an edge, and in the case of MHFA can change and save lives. It’s a gift.  

Colleagues report that they’ve used their newly learnt skills outside of work to help family members and friends, and I have frequently used them in the wider world. Mental health first aid is a skill for life, just like physical first aid.  

There’s no reason anyone can’t learn to be a mental health first aider and we go to great lengths to ensure the training is accessible to all. Colleagues may have their own lived experience of mental health issues so we’re very mindful of triggers, using helpful language, and having a safe and confidential way of taking some time out of sessions if needed. We allow adaptations for neurodiverse colleagues who struggle to sit in front of a webcam, can arrange sign language translators, and keep group sizes sensible so that I can monitor and assess everyone adequately. The two-day course is very structured with case studies and quizzes supporting each module. 


An important part of mental health first aid training involves raising awareness and reducing the stigma of poor mental health. It’s incredibly hard to recover from a mental health problem on your own. You need other people to listen, to give advice, and care. That’s why I feel that awareness weeks such as Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) and Learning at Work Week (LAW Week) are so important – and why these two especially combine so well together.   

One of the themes of this year’s LAW Week is The Power to Connect: how learning forms connections between people and ideas, building relationships and new perspectives. I can’t think of a more apt example than learning mental health first aid skills.  

This week gives us the chance to educate, discuss and ask questions. It is a very lonely place when you’re experiencing poor mental health; I hope these weeks help people realise they’re not alone and encourages more people to learn mental health first aid skills.   

Lesley is a Learning and Development Specialist, MHFAi, and Diversity Champion at Ingeus. She is also an Associate of the Institute of Employability Professionals. She supports the induction of new team members and the continuing professional development of Ingeus colleagues. She specialises in mental health, neurodiversity, and safeguarding training.   

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