Case Study: Going Global With Mental Health First Aid Training and Support

Whilst perhaps not a household name for most, Firstsource is a company that will have touched many of our lives at some point. With 5536 employees in the UK and 27, 955 employees around the world, the organisation is a global leader in business process management services and describes itself as a “trusted outsourcing partner to the world’s leading brands”.

Antony Smeaton has been Firstsource’s Senior Manager – Talent Development for eleven and a half years. In this exclusive interview for Make A Difference Media, he shares insights into how he has grown and supports a network of Mental Health First Aiders across the globe.

First can you tell us a bit about your role at Firstsource?

Since joining Firstsource I have had a number of roles. This has allowed me to learn the business from different perspectives. My current talent development role suits me best as I love seeing people grow and use us as a springboard to thrive. In addition to my talent development role, I work on a number of projects, which gives me plenty of variety. Project’s include Performance Enhancement, Top Talent review and our FitSource wellbeing initiative.

What is Firstsource’s mission around mental health? what are you trying to achieve?

The quest for wellbeing is a lifelong one. We have started the conversation and initiated a movement that will positively improve the health and wellbeing of every Firstsourcer. However, it is only when “I” is replaced by “We” that Illness can become Wellness. FitSource is not about an individual or a team, it’s a collective responsibility and one that we need to adopt as our way of life!

As part of this mission, our aim is to have one Mental Health First Aider (MHFAider) for every 50 Firstsourcers.

We are supporting Firstsourcers across the globe with a joined-up approach, whilst also respecting everyone’s culture to stamp out the stigma around mental health. We do this through our FitSource initiative, which is broken down into Mental Health, Physical Health, Social Health, Financial Health, Emotional Health & Environmental Health.

When you started out the ratio of MHFAiders to staff was 1 / 123 and now it’s 1 / 45.2 how did you achieve this?

Around three and a half years ago we trained three groups of 35 people in the UK to become Mental Health First Aiders. It took is a while to get Firstsourcers talking. Being able to talk about mental health openly to a MHFAider, in confidence and without fear of any repercussions on career development was very new for them.

These first three groups really showed that we are an employer that cares for everyone’s mental health and created an environment where there was an opportunity to talk. As more people felt safe talking to MHFA’s we grew. By the end of 2019 we had one MHFA for every 69.9 Firstsourcers. Now we have one MHFA for every 45.2 Firstsourcers.

As a company we value our people. Without them we wouldn’t exist and we recognise it’s important to safeguard them. Having MHFAiders helps to support this aim.

Are the MHFAiders being rolled out globally or just in the UK? 

 FitSource is a global initiative but we only had MHFA’s in the UK. When the Pandemic hit, we set up a campaign called “It’s my week” where we did activities every day of the week to support Firstsourcers globally.

One of the days was dedicated to mental health/positive wellbeing – Wellness Wednesdays were born. Wellness Wednesday have remained part of the global group meeting every two weeks to make sure we are doing the right thing at the right time for our audience right across the globe.

Off the back of this, we now have 9 MHFA’s in the Philippines and 7 in the US. We have plans to bring the training to India and build the number in the US and Philippines within the next two months.

Red Umbrella will deliver and support the aftercare of the Mental Health First Aiders for three years. We are excited to grow our MHFAiders with the support of Red Umbrella, and are looking forward to colleagues across the globe enjoying all the benefits that Red Umbrella has already brought to the UK.

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What drew you to Red Umbrella?

As we operate in Wales, England and Northern Ireland, we use three different companies to deliver the MHFA training. All provide excellent training. Red Umbrella stood out as their aftercare is provided in the training cost.

The aftercare supports our MHFA’s if they are unsure on how to proceed when supporting an employee. It also gives our MHFA’s a confidential counselling service which they can use if they are dealing with a difficult case or if they need any personal support.

This helps to ensure that our MHFAiders also think about their own self-care. Red umbrella also offers MH Fan which delivers regular webinars to our MHFAiders to refresh and share best practices with other companies. This is so beneficial as it gives them the space to talk about and share best practice. It’s great to for networking with others to see what ideas they have and share.

We have monthly catch-ups to discuss future training and support we need. Red Umbrella also conducted a number of webinars on our Wellbeing Wednesdays to support us which were very popular right across our global audience. We received some very positive feedback.

What makes the difference in having the relationship you have with Red Umbrella?

After working with Red Umbrella for over three years, they understand our business. They are there 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to support us and are extremely flexible to meet our needs. They tailor sessions to really go above and beyond and to support us.

What are the biggest challenges regarding mental health and achieving your mission going forward?

Now that we have MHFA’s globally, our biggest challenge is to operate differently depending on the cultures in different parts of the globe. We still have a long way to go in the UK, but some countries have even further to go. We are always mindful of this but keep focused and break the stigma around mental health by supporting one person in a crisis at a time.

What are you implementing to support this?

We research and take feedback from all of our global colleges which we share with Red Umbrella so that they can take it on board before running sessions. Red umbrella has worked in most parts of the globe we have a footprint in and completes a lot of research before running the training in these countries for us around local support and EAP’s.

The pandemic has forced us all to learn how to use Teams/Zoom and be more globally connected. What are the positive and negative effects of this when it comes to mental health?

At the start of the pandemic, I didn’t want to complete the training virtually as I felt the content is quite intense and should be face to face. I was wrong! It has allowed us to mix groups from all parts of the UK as well as the Philippines and US. This has been a major win for us as our MHFA’s get to see mental health from different cultural perspectives and understand our business more, interacting with colleagues they would never have worked with before.


    • Understand other cultures across Firstsource
    • Being able to backfill easily
    • MH Fan connect with other businesses
    • MH Fan Supervision
    • Encourages us to support others through Teams
    • Training is broken up into 4 half days


    • Not everyone is in one place
    • We can ask for the cameras to be put on when having MHFA conversations, but if someone is in a crisis they may hide away and not put it on. We then can’t check visibly how they are.

What was the most positive situation you’ve encountered as a MHFAider?

For me it’s when you get that phone call or text of someone you supported telling you that they are on the right road and that they are able to start taking some kind of control for their own positive wellbeing.

About the author

Tim Ladd is an entrepreneur who has created businesses in Germany and the UK, and due to his own personal journey is passionate about mental health. Having worked in the residential rehab sector, Tim set up Red Umbrella in 2013, initially as an ethical referral agency for people suffering from alcohol and drug addictions and eating disorders. The business quickly evolved to provide workshops and MHFA training for employers. Tim realised it made no sense to train MHFAiders and then not fully support them, and that EAP’s are underutilised and too expensive in relation to effectiveness. So set his sights on providing mental health-specific EAP’s that were innovative and only pay as needed, so that valuable company resources are not wasted in attempting to support employees, as this is often a stumbling block in implementing mental health strategies.

Other articles you might be interested in reading:

Ground Breaking Networking Platform Launched For Mental Health First Aiders

Making Mental Health First Aid Work

Assessing The Effectiveness of Mental Health First Aid



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