I tabled a Ten Minute Rule Bill today entitled ‘First Aid (Mental Health) Bill’. The Bill aims to make mental health first-aid part of regular first-aid training requirements.
As we recover from the Coronavirus pandemic, defeat the virus and return to normality, we will also be encouraging people to return to their normal workplace, when it is safe to do so. Whilst we are well on our way to defeating the virus, we are likely to emerge on the other side of the pandemic with another crisis of public health, but one of mental health, not physical.
To give some context, the onus in first aid requirements is on the employer under the Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations 1981- 'An employer shall provide... such equipment and facilities as are adequate and appropriate... for enabling first-aid to be rendered to his employees if they are injured or become ill at work'.
The figures behind this paint the true picture of what may be coming our way at the end of the pandemic. There has been a steady increase across the country in people accessing mental health services.
As we see a gradual return of employees to the workplace, we should ensure that we prepare employers to adequately provide a form of mental first-aid to identify any potential difficulties. Encouraging employers to include mental-health first aid as part of first-aid training requirements is an option, but this would likely not be taken up by most employers as there continues to be a stigma around mental health in the workplace. Legislative changes are required to ensure that people get the help they need.
Speech in full
Madam Deputy Speaker, I beg to move that leave be given to bring in a Bill to make mental health first-aid part of first-aid training requirements; and for connected purposes.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I can still vividly recall when I was a teenager, the sound of my sister as she cried and sobbed each night following the news that one of her best friends, and someone I had always looked up to, had committed suicide.
That was nearly thirty years ago but I can recall it like it was yesterday. The pain, the loss, and the biggest question of all: “could I have done something to change their mind?”
As I stand here today, I know I cannot change the past. But perhaps with this bill I can, we can, change the future.
Madam Deputy Speaker, this bill makes a simple request. To make mental health first-aid part of physical first-aid in workplaces across this country. In doing so, we may not only save lives but change lives too.
My proposal is a simple one. It's not to ask for a recommendation. It's not to ask for a guideline. But it's to ask for a law around this to ensure that all workplaces have the right capacity to deal with people who may be going through difficulties.
We live in a society now where mental health is on the rise, in terms of issues, and as a society, today, we have a much greater appreciation than we ever had of the importance of mental wellbeing so there must be a time now for a small change to make a big impact.
I want to assure colleagues that this bill is not asking too much of business. Just as physical first aiders are not expected to be trained as doctors or paramedics, mental health first aiders are not expected to be counsellors or full-time psychotherapists. The training simply provides the skills for the first aider to identify, understand and help someone who may be experiencing a mental health issue. This could be through mandating accredited Mental Health First Aider training or perhaps just requiring the inclusion of the existing Public Health England Psychological First Aid training.
Madam Deputy Speaker, as you will already know the proposal in this bill is not new to Parliament. Over two years ago due to the excellent work of Natasha Devon, and the Where’s Your Head At? Campaign, which I am now a proud official ambassador for. This topic was debated in a Backbench Business Committee Debate.
We all know though, since that time two years ago, that times have changed dramatically. And given the impact of the COVID crisis on the mental health of the nation, today, the world is drastically different. Back then, this was important. Today, it is both urgent and essential
Madam Deputy Speaker, to have a Mental Health First Aider in every workplace Is not unrealistic. In my own constituency of Watford, I set an ambition to train a thousand Mental Health First Aiders. And with the incredible support of Camelot, Watford Chamber of Commerce, Wellspring Church and other amazing community champions, we are making this a reality. I want Watford to be a Wellbeing Town, but perhaps we could make the UK a Wellbeing Country, where loneliness has no place to hide and mental wellbeing is the norm.
It may take years, but we are beginning those steps to do so. And we are inspiring others too. For example, my honourable friend the member for Ynys Môn has just already signed up a hundred people to train as Mental Health First Aiders and I am sure many others will follow.
But this bill aims even higher. It will mean every workplace would have a Mental Health First Aider. Just imagine what impact that would have. And the people we could help, before they require more urgent support. It would mean that First aiders in every workplace would not just be able to save lives through CPR, but perhaps change lives by asking people how they are.
And just as workplaces are diverse from offices to barber shops, train stations and supermarkets, each member of staff is also different. They are our mothers and our brothers, our sisters and our fathers. They are the veterans and the volunteers. They are all of us. All of the experiences, all of the emotions that we each carry with us. Those times of grief to loneliness, from anxiety to stress, both love and loss.
But this is not just an emotional argument for this bill. There are very sound business and economic reasons to support it.
According to FirstCare, 2018 marked the first year where mental-health related absences became the leading cause of lost working days. Just imagine that. And it is estimated that 1 in 7 workers who have taken time off for COVID-related issues will also take time off work due to poor mental health. And it’s also estimated that workers who take sick leave more than twice are 63% more likely to leave their job. So this is a big issue for business.
And Madam Deputy Speaker, at the true heart-breaking moment when we look at these figures, there is an even starker example that when a person takes their own life, when one considers the full cost from court cases to funerals to coroner's fees, it is estimated that the cost to the country of every individual suicide is £1.7m. Never mind the devastating loss that that causes.
I know the Government is taking mental health seriously, especially with the impact of COVID. Unprecedented sums of money are being spent on mental health; in fact, £14 billion in the past year. I am also pleased that the Health & Safety Executive included Mental Health First Aider in their official guidelines, but this Bill would build upon that.
So given the toll the pandemic has had on our nation’s mental health, the proposal today cannot be controversial. Just as having physical first aiders is a norm, and it’s been the case for decades, surely this bill just gives parity to mental health too.
As we move forward, surely it is only right that we don’t put all the pressure on tackling the stigma of mental health solely on our incredible healthcare sector. It is upon us all.
By spotting early warning signs and signposting people to the right guidance, at the right time, in the right place, we can ensure early support. This bill will help make it okay to ask somebody in the workplace if they are okay. We cannot say it enough times that it is not a weakness to ask for help. It is a strength.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I have a phrase that you may have heard before. That HOPE is an acronym. H-O-P-E. Help One Person Everyday. With this Bill, we could help millions.
And to be clear, this Bill is not asking for billions from the treasury. It is not contentious. It helps individuals, businesses, society and the economy. And it could help the nation heal as we all emerge from an unprecedented crisis.
Madam Deputy Speaker, surely, if suicide were a virus would we not be searching for a vaccine?
And if loneliness were a disease would we not be attempting to find a cure?
In the coming months and years, we, as a nation, will need to come to terms with the impact of COVID.
We will hug each other once more. We will sing and we will dance, and we will drink with eacg other. Together.
But as we return together in the workplace, we will also need grieve together, we will have to face our fears together. We will have to mourn our loved ones and our missing colleagues together and share our stories together. I truly believe this Bill will play a small, practical, part in ensuring our nation can heal together too.
So, Madam Deputy Speaker, I humbly request for this Bill to be given due consideration and be passed into Law.
And ask, with the greatest respect, “If not now, then when? And if not when, then why not?”
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.