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FuturePsych 2020 - An Article by George Cole

Updated: Oct 13, 2020

Peer-Led Mental Health Training at Bristol Medical School: The key to a more Mentally Healthy Population of Doctors?

It is not news that compassionate conversation is powerful when it comes to supporting good mental health. Yet, I would be surprised to find a medical student or foundation doctor who finds such conversations easy. Whether with family, friends, patients or colleagues, it is no-doubt a tough conversation to have.

At Bristol Medical School, I have coordinated the design and implementation of Tools to Talk Mental Health training into the curriculum - a sustainable, peer-led project aiming to give students solid foundations, empowering them with better understanding and more confidence when having conversations about mental health. This will lead to them feeling better equipped to support each other, their colleagues and the mental health of their patients.

A common concern is that "We must be mindful not to place too much pressure and responsibility on medical students…".

Mental health is universal to us all, so it is highly likely that students will be faced with stress, anxiety, overwhelm, distress and acute need, regardless of choice. With this in mind, surely it is better students are prepared to work confidently within these areas rather than face them blind.

By equipping a community, such as a university, with the tools and confidence to support those within from early on, it becomes powerfully resilient. Students will then take this and disseminate it through other communities as they progress.

Work on the course began following coffee with a friend. We stumbled across something seemingly nonsensical - we are qualified in Basic Life Support (BLS) within months of starting Medical School, but there is no mental health equivalent.

The course (Fig.1) is designed to be peer-led. This emphasises togetherness and adds relatability.

Training starts in the first few months of medical school. Sessions contain both generalised training and career specific content. They are designed using input from a wide range of mental health professionals, those with lived experience and local organisations. Perhaps most importantly, they take into account the views and experiences of students.

Students can apply to attend a training weekend and teach in subsequent years, paving the way for financial sustainability and a greater reach.

280 medical students attended Tier 1 in November 2019. Of these, 142 completed baseline and follow up measures of self-reported confidence in supporting a peer, supporting in an acute situation and general understanding of mental health.

Results suggest this training is an effective way of improving all three factors. T-tests compared confidence of students’ baseline and follow up as measured on a Likert scale. Results suggest that this training is an effective way of improving all three factors investigated –there was an 18% (P<0.05) increase in confidence when supporting a peer, 21% (P<0.05) if faced with an acute situation and a 24% (P<0.05) self-reported increase in understanding. Qualitative feedback was very positive and included comments such as ‘I like that it was student led as it emphasised the importance of mental health in our society’. Work is still ongoing - we aim to introduce the programme in full next academic year.

Only when medical students and doctors feel truly confident in having conversations about mental health with each other, can we expect our patients to follow suit. We welcome opportunities to spread our work throughout other medical schools, universities and communities once fully established. If you’d like to get in touch, please email

George Cole, Co-Founder and Director of PROJECT:TALK

Article originally published in FuturePsych, The Student and Foundation Doctor Associate Magazine, in Summer 2020

If you have any questions or would like to get involved, please contact us at If you are interested in writing a post for the TIME TO:TALK blog, please contact Xav at

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