One of the unwritten conventions of working at the RSA is that, if a Fellow calls, you try your best to answer. So far, this has felt like anything but a burden, and has led to fascinating discussions and an emerging set of ideas for education projects, all which aim to engage Fellows at every stage.
Yesterday I met with RSA Fellow Sarah Bickerstaffe. An Associate at Improving Care, she is also carrying out research on social impact bonds in the mental health sector, and has recently set up a social enterprise to deliver Mental Health First Aid training. Imported from Australia, this two day programme trains people to identify and support people with mental health issues – from spotting panic attacks, to simple ways to talk to people who may be suicidal, to having more subtle conversations. Freed from an initial DoH programme, a new Community Interest Company is now thriving, with an interesting franchise model that encourages its instructors to innovate , whilst assuring quality in an atmosphere of high trust. Sarah has written about her work here.
Unsurprisingly, mental health first aid has taken off mainly in the public and voluntary sectors so far, for instance in the criminal justice and health sectors. There are also discrete courses for young people that could link well with the Modern Baccalaureate (which RSA is developing a partnership with).
Sarah is keen to develop new approaches to attract the private sector. There should be a strong business case for this, although the evidence on effectiveness is not quite mature yet. Although all kinds of businesses would benefit from this, as mental health is a common issue across any workforce, there are certain industries who encounter mental health issues more frequently, so might benefit from bespoke training. Nightclub bouncers, for instance, or bus drivers.
My first choice for a mental health first aid trial would be to run the course for cabbies. Sensible regulation during the last ten years, especially in London, has made the taxi industry far less shadowy. My local cab offices are staffed and their cabs driven by polite men, usually first generation immigrants, often highly educated. Their presence on our roads, and especially when waiting in their offices on our main shopping streets, discourages crime and anti-social behaviour. RSA’s project on how taxi drivers can change habits to promote fuel efficiency shows a capacity and appetite for a different kind of ‘Knowledge’.
Cab drivers could probably do with some general first aid training (In Germany, everyone has to pass a first aid qualification to get a driving licence), but might benefit in particular from mental health first aid training. Given their role in fuelling the night-time economy, they are likely to confront mental health emergencies, often drug and alcohol-related, sometimes leading to violence. Could there be a business case for cab drivers participating in mental health first aid training? Sometimes of course, as my favourite movie taxi scene shows below (rated 15) , it's the driver himself who needs help. But beyond the specifics of mental health first aid, are there other ways to turn cab drivers into our fourth emergency service?