Mental health first aid training on offer in Coffs Harbour

Andrew Simons will deliver Mental Health First Aid Officer training provided through NovaSkill in Coffs Harbour.

‘IF I’d known then what I know now’ is a driving mantra behind the new work of Coffs Harbour’s Andrew Simons in the mental health space.

“I am on a mission to change the way members of the Coffs Harbour community view mental health and mental illness,” Andrew told News Of The Area.

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While mental illness has affected families, communities and workplaces for generations, its insidious spread is growing, according to recent studies.

A study from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare suggests that, in any one year, one in five persons over the age of sixteen are experiencing a diagnosable mental illness, and at least half of those persons are not receiving any form of support and assistance.

Andrew believes we can do better and has stepped up to the plate with a training program.

“Mental Health First Aid Officer (MHFA) training is an important step in the process of supporting someone,” he said.

“Mental illness not only affects families and communities but also costs Australian businesses billions of dollars in any financial year due to absenteeism, presenteeism and compensation costs.

“As I reflect over my career, I recognise that as a player with North Sydney and Penrith in the ARL in the eighties and nineties I was completely unaware and oblivious to the struggles my teammates and good friends were experiencing through mental illness in their day-to-day and sporting lives,” he said.

“If I had known then what I now know, I could have changed lives entirely and made a real difference.

“I want to help our Coffs Harbour community to be able to recognise, support and assist persons experiencing a mental illness or undergoing a mental health crisis.

“It will make our community stronger and safer.

“We need to treat a mental illness as we would treat any other illness.”

To achieve these aims Andrew is working with Novaskill (a Registered Training Organisation) and Mental Health First Aid Australia in delivering the MHFA Officer training.

In 2023 more than 50 people in Coffs Harbour received accreditation through Mental Health First Aid Australia, with that number increasing to approximately 300 participants across the Novaskill footprint.

“I want to make it 100 people accredited in our region in 2024,” he said.

“(With) one trained person helping ten, and each of them helping one more, the benefits ripple out over time, saving and changing lives.”

MHFA has recognised the outstanding feedback received from the first cohort of participants in 2023, and in 2024 Andrew is now able to offer a variety of learning models, making the course more accessible to more people.

The course delivery models include fully online, mixed mode (online and face-to-face classroom) and a highly successful two-day, face-to-face model.

“We are now able to tailor the course delivery to suit every participant’s individual study needs without compromising the quality of the course content.”

Any person interested in undertaking the MHFA course or discussing how it can assist your community group or business is invited to contact Andrew directly on 0488 576 567 or


Former rugby league player Andrew Simons says he was completely oblivious to the mental health struggles his teammates and good friends were experiencing in their day-to-day and sporting lives.

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