Stepping into women’s mental health and fitness 

When Fernwood Women’s Health and Fitness Club decided to introduce a new wellness program (Empower), to support the holistic health and wellbeing needs of members, they knew they needed a practical understanding of mental health issues. Wellness, Training and Development Manager, Emma Robertson, saw the importance of developing an understanding of mental health first aid with the coaches who would be delivering the program. 

“If we are going to be working in the space of mental wellness, our staff need training for when there are red flags about a member’s mental health. They need to be able to direct them to appropriate help,” said Emma.

Fernwood’s head office made a commitment to pursuing a mental health training program that would work at all levels of the organisation. With most gyms operating as franchises, and 800 staff working in diverse roles, this presented some initial challenges. Once the benefits of mental health first aid training began to show their value, it became an easy sell and a practical solution.

The ripple effect of Mental Health First Aid Training 

Emma was supported by Fernwood to receive training to become a qualified MHFA Instructor. She can now teach fellow Fernwood employees mental health first aid. She notes that this has a strong ‘ripple effect’, with benefits for members and the organisation, as well as for staff both in the workplace and at home. 

The courses Emma runs are now often full of staff enthusiastic to learn new skills. This makes training a rewarding experience. “The course is so well put together, the e-learning is amazing, the activities are brilliant, and the teaching notes are thorough. As a trainer, it is such as easy course to deliver.”

“We are the experts in women’s health and fitness, but it’s not just physical, it has to be mental health and wellbeing, as well. If you want to be the expert you need the accreditation to back your claim.


Claire Dickens – Regional Manager

Adapting to change

To date, over 300 staff have undertaken training, and it has now become a requirement for all club owners, managers, and trainers who offer health and wellness sessions. Some regional managers, such as Claire Dickens in Western Melbourne, also saw the opportunity to extend this training to more staff– making in compulsory in most roles.

The organisation has 70,000 members around Australia, and staff working in roles such as management, fitness training and coaching, wellness, administration and childcare. All of these roles have interaction with women from all walks of life, on a daily basis.

A commitment to mental health

In their dedication to wellbeing, Fernwood has also introduced a new process of ‘checking in’ as part of their member induction process. This includes a mental health check that staff now feel more equipped to provide. Emma goes on to note that there are instances in which MHFA has had an immediate pay off. She provides the example of one particular day when a member was experiencing a mental health crisis. Staff were able to quickly and effectively put into practice what they had learned. They responded with empathy and got the woman the care she needed.

They later received the gratitude of both the member and her healthcare provider. “I don’t want to think about what could have happened if they hadn’t had the training,” says Claire.

Claire also notes that staff are saying that they no longer find mental health conversations difficult, and that talking about mental health is now more common place even in staff and management meetings. “I have recognised when people are having an MHFA conversation with me…it’s nice.”

In 2020, Fernwood went on to become recognised as an MHFA Gold Skilled Workplace. They provide an inspiring example of what can be achieved by workplaces in just two years of implementing MHFA, but with a long-sighted commitment to wellbeing into the future.


A big thanks for Emma, Claire & Ashleigh from Fernwood Fitness for taking the time to record and share their experience with MHFA and the difference that it has made – not only in the workplace but also their lives more broadly.

Click on the videos below to hear their stories.

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