Dean Russell MP for Watford has reintroduced his Bill to make mental health first aid training a legal requirement as part of physical first aid training in workplaces across the country. Having first introduced the Bill in March 2021, Dean has raised the Bill again in the House of Commons Chamber on Wednesday 25th January 2023 to ensure mental health support remains at the forefront.
In his original attempt Dean referenced the work of the Where’s Your Head At! Campaign which reached over 200,000 signatures to make mental health first aid part of workplace first aid and this time Dean is also championing the work of Baton of Hope charity who have a vision of a zero-suicide society and bring about change in how we approach and discuss suicide.
Workplace health data demonstrates that stress, depression or anxiety has been the increasing leading cause of lost working days since the 1990’s. GoodShape’s Workplace Health Report 2021 showed that 19% of all lost working time was attributed to poor mental health, followed by confirmed cases of Covid at 16%. However, the Health and Safety Executive estimates the figures are now around half for all cases of self-reported work-related ill health for 2021/22, accounting for 17 million workdays lost and with an unfathomable economic cost.
With the likelihood of underreporting, this number will only continue to increase.
Awareness of the need for better mental health and well-being has grown over recent years and ensuring every workplace has a person with mental health first aid awareness training will enable early signposting, guidance and support to boost the nation’s mental wellbeing.
This is not only extremely worrying for the health of the nation, but also for business productivity and economic growth. On average, the nearly 1 million workers who suffer with stress, depression or anxiety relating to their employment will take around 18.6 days off work. 54% of workers who take two or more mental health-related absences will go on to leave their jobs.
After speaking in the Chamber, Dean said, "One of the big reasons I went into politics and public service was to remove the stigma around mental health and improve provision. It is absolutely right that every workplace has a physical first aider on site, this bill would simply extend that to ensure mental health is on a par with physical health. Our collective experience of Covid pushed our focus on physical health and now we need to realign our priorities to ensure we also focus on mental wellbeing.
As I said in my maiden speech when I entered politics, I continue to strive for the acronym HOPE – Help One Person Everyday – and I believe this initiative will do even more than that.”
The bill received no objections and will go through to a second reading on 24th February.
Thank you, Mr. 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. This is my second attempt to bring this bill to the House. And as before in the speech, I will be speaking about the sensitive topics of mental health and suicide.
I will share the scale of public support through the excellent Where's Your Head At campaign and I will outline the economic and business benefits, and I will also share why this bill will bring hope to those who are struggling to cope in times of difficulty. Ultimately, at the heart of this bill is a simple request: to create parity between mental health and physical health in the workplace for first aid.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, there is no doubting the world has changed not only in the post-COVID era, but the rise in technology to the relentlessness of social media and an always-on culture. Our working environments are shifting rapidly, but we as humans have not changed. We still have emotions. We still feel love and loss, happiness and grief, joy and pain.
We have goals and ambitions, hopes and expectations. Sometimes they can be overwhelming. And at times we can find it hard to express how we feel, and when feeling vulnerable, they find it hard to know who to speak to when times are tough. In my previous attempt to bring this Bill forward, I spoke about the impact of hearing my sister sob when I was a teenager when she heard the news of one of her friends who had death by suicide.
So to frame the importance of this Bill, I would ask those listening to think for a moment, please, about someone they may have lost in their own lives. What would we all give to hold a loved one's hand just one more time? To hear them knock at the door just once more? To have just one more conversation? What would we give to have that loved one here today? And as I’ve said before, if suicide were a virus, we would be on the hunt for a vaccine. And if loneliness were a disease, would we not search for a cure? And at the extreme end of this Bill, we are talking about saving lives.
The House of Commons Library reports that in 2021 alone, there were 6,319 deaths by suicide that were registered in Great Britain. Although suicide rates have declined over recent decades, and thankfully the 20th century stigma around shame and around mental health has shifted, but there is still more to be done. That is why I am also backing a new charity campaign, the Baton of Hope, who are part of a growing movement aspiring to a zero suicide society.
But achieving this won't be easy, and of course we cannot bring back those we have lost. But through early intervention and ensuring the right signposting at the right time through this Bill, we could possibly prevent losing others in the future. But this Bill is not just about preventing suicide, as important as that is. It's also about reflecting the reality of modern society, especially post-Covid.
There is no doubting that mental health issues are on the rise. Stress, depression or anxiety have increasingly become the leading cause of lost work days since the 1990s. Let me share some data. Firstly, the Centre for Mental Health estimates that 10 million more people will need mental health support as a direct result of the pandemic. This growing need was reflected perhaps this week most strongly, when it announced that £150 million of additional funding for mental health services are going back into the system.
And I was pleased that Watford General Hospital in my own constituency received £355,000 from Mental Health Services to support my constituents and those across West Hertfordshire. According to the British Safety Council and the Health and Safety Executive, nearly 1 million workers who suffer work-related stress, depression or anxiety will lose an average of 18.6 days a year, and that is in the context of 17 million days lost due to poor mental health in 2021 and 2022.
This brings me to the all-important business benefits of this Bill. According to the Deloitte Mental Health at Work report 2022, the cost of mental health to UK businesses is staggering, £56 billion per year. And according to Good Shape, a business in my own constituency that partnered with leading organisations to track and improve the wellbeing of staff, 54% of workers who take more than two days leave due to mental health related absences will go on to leave their jobs.
The Deloitte report also indicated that a return on investment for investing in staff is well spent with five pound to every one pound spent so it cannot be argued any investment is not worthwhile. A pre-pandemic report also indicated that a new thing called presenteeism where employees are physically at work but not productive was also costing UK employers up to £29 billion per year.
And where presenteeism relates to mental health it can have a detrimental impact on – more detrimental – on absences. So ensuring mental health is firmly on the business agenda is not a burden but it's an investment which ultimately benefits their bottom line. And there is real public support too. Thanks to the work of Where's Your Head At with Natasha Devon, for which I am proud to be an official ambassador.
Over 200,000 people have signed a petition supporting the principles behind this bill, which was from way before I joined Parliament. And I've seen the benefits directly myself too. In my own constituency of Watford, I set an ambition to train a thousand people in mental health first aid awareness, which I originally anticipated would probably take about a decade to achieve.
And incredibly we've just reached the 600th person trained by that programme, thanks to the incredible support of Camelot and the Watford and West Harts Chamber of Commerce. There are many more trained locally through other schemes too, and that's because there are now many more providers of mental health first aid and mental health first aid awareness training. And from those like the Mental Health First Aid England group who helped with some insights from my speech today, there are many other courses, including free courses by government departments which are available to many.
So I would not seek to limit the options or be too prescriptive with this speech. That is because workplaces are diverse, from offices to hair salons, construction sites to supermarkets. Each worker is different. Behind every statistic is a person with family and friends.
They are our mothers, our brothers, our sisters and our fathers. They are the veterans and they are the volunteers. That is why I believe the power in this bill lies in making sure that it's flexible enough to work for all. We spend so much time in the workplace, yet we cannot always be ourselves when we are there.
It can be hard to show our true face when times are tough because we aim, as always, to be professional. But people do not wear bandages to show where they have anxiety and depression. Many learn to hide their pain in fear of damaging their careers. For many they learn to smile when really they would like to run a mile to escape the situation they might find themselves in.
Mental health first aiders, I must be clear, are not expected to be counsellors or psychologists, but just like physical first aiders, who are not expected to be paramedics or surgeons, this bill will simply mean workers have someone to signpost them to the support and help they need when they need it.
So before I come to my conclusion, I would just like to take this short opportunity to to say to anyone listening to this speech who may be having difficulties right now, that tough times can pass, that sometimes the mind can be a cruel echo chamber full of unwanted thoughts and hurt, and speaking can be a powerful release valve, reducing the pressure and the stress.
So please ask for help if you need it. It is not a weakness to ask for help, it is a strength. And to my right honourable friend on the front bench, I truly hope the government will also have the strength to back this bill. So yes, I am back for a second time. Unfortunately I never give up and I will not give up on this bill.
But even if I did, there are so many more behind me who would want to make this happen. So this is not a request that will go away and I will be back again if needed. This bill is a small change with a massive impact. So I humbly request that this Bill be given due consideration and is passed into law.