The New Zealand Police has increasingly attended mental health related events. In response to this, in 2013, New Zealand Police commissioned the University of Otago to develop, delivery and evaluate an e-learning programme. A three online modules were created; one on recognising the signs of mental distress, one on engaging with and responding to people who experience mental distress, and one specifically on suicide.
In 2016, the Health Promotion Agency (HPA) commissioned the University of Otago to undertake research to evaluate the three mental health e-Learning modules. The evaluation of the e-Learning focuses on both attitudinal and behavioural change strands. The attitudinal strand consisted of a survey before and after the e-Learning, delivered by a quantitative questionnaire. The behavioural strand collected qualitative data from 24 semi-structured telephone interviews, structured according to the overarching e-Learning framework.
The quantitative results from the attitude strand suggest improvement on all four CASC scales (attribution, recovery assessment, empowerment, and care-seeking), supporting the view that the e-Learning had impacted positively on stigmatising attitudes towards people with mental distress. However the relatively small numbers of people who have engaged in both the learning (just over 3000) and the evaluation (under 500 provided data for comparison with the baseline survey) means these results are caveated.
Through the behavioural-focused evaluation, changes in both attitudes and behaviour were reported, principally in relation to recognising and engaging with people who experience mental distress .These changes were either explicitly attributable or may be attributable to the modules. More specifically, the changes reported suggest that these Police staff are recognising and engaging in a way that can be generally described as more understanding, communicative, respectful, and compassionate. The changes also align with the victim, prevention-focus of the organisation in relation to responding to mental distress and organisational values, particularly empathy.
However significant barriers to implementing the e-Learning with regard to facilitating outcomes were reported. The implication from the data is that principally problems of inter-agency working are preventing the Police from being able to facilitate “prompt access to appropriate services at a place of comfort and safety in the least restrictive manner”.
Other findings include little change in accessing well-being resources in the Police force, despite an apparent change in attitudes towards care-seeking, which may be indicated by data within the attitude strand.
Other comments included the desire to see further training, such as the e-Learning being used to develop and disseminate ”regular refreshers”. Also, communications staff expressed the desire for more relevant material to be delivered to them in future, which is unsurprising given that the e-Learning was not specifically tailored to their roles.
Overall, the e-Learning modality seems to have been highly acceptable to staff, and successful in terms of facilitating the type of interpersonal contact that counters negative ideas and myths, attitudes and behaviours, as well as affirming positive ideas, attitudes and behaviours towards people who experience mental distress. This is further supported by the fact that the value of focusing and drawing on lived experience of mental distress to create and deliver the e-Learning was emphasised throughout the dataset.
The clear majority of staff involved across the evaluation had regular contact with the public in their roles, and the reported changes in attitude (caveats remaining) and behaviour by them, provide good grounds for concluding that the e-Learning has contributed to improving outcomes for people who experience mental distress.