A new first aid law requiring businesses to offer mental health first aid training has been presented to parliament.
Tory MP Dean Russell told the Commons the move will lead to more people spotting the early signs of mental health issues in the workplace.
Many businesses already offer mental health training to first aiders, but it is not a legal requirement.
Mental health first aid bill presented to parliament may not become law, but HR would likely welcome the change, experts say
Mr Russell told MPs that requiring mental health first aid training in the workplace would save lives.
“People do not always wear bandages to show where they have anxiety and depression,” he told MPs.
“This Bill will simply mean that workers have a person to signpost them to the help and support they need, when they need it.”
The rise in mental health first aid the idea has been discussed for several years.
In his original attempt in 2021, Russell referenced the work of the a petition for the “Where’s Your Head At!” campaign, which was led by Bauer Media UK and Mental Health First Aid England, which gained 200,000 signatures to make mental health first aid part of workplace first aid.
The extra training would come at a cost to businesses, but campaigners highlight the growing number of workdays lost to poor mental health.
The Health and Safety Executive estimates that mental illness accounted for around half of all cases of sick leave last year .
‘Prevent losing others’ Mr Russell believes the change could limit the long-term impact on businesses and the NHS, and ultimately save lives.
“We cannot bring back those we have lost,” he said.
“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.”
Mr Russell proposed the new law as a Ten Minute Rule Bill on Wednesday.
There is rarely enough time for Ten Minute Rule Bills to become law – but they represent an avenue for MPs to raise awareness of issues.
Health Minister Maria Caulfield watched his speech from the government benches.
Addressing her directly, Mr. Russell said, “This is not a request that will go away and I will be back if needed. It is a simple change that will make a massive difference.”
Furthermore Russell told MPs that the Bill will “simply mean that workers have a person to signpost them to the help and support they need, when they need it” and that it could limit the long-term impact of mental health on businesses and “prevent losing others in the future”.
The proposition follows data from Health and Safety England (HSE) which found that stress, depression and anxiety accounted for half (51 per cent) of work-related illness last year. Between 2021/2022, HSE found that mental illness accounted for 914,000 new or long-standing ill health.
Simon Blake, chief executive at Mental Health First Aid England, welcomed the proposed First Aid Law as it highlighted the importance of good mental health at work, but advised that it be treated the same as physical first aid.
“Giving Mental Health First Aid and Physical First Aid parity of esteem in the eyes of the law would be an important demonstration of employers taking account of their peoples’ physical and mental health – both are equally important, and inextricably linked,” said Blake, adding that the Bill, at the very least, will “shine a light” on mental health at work.
Implications For Employers
Unless and until the First Aid Law is legal and enforced, employers are not legally required to provide mental health first aid training. However, in the meantime, Mental Health First Aid England advises taking the following steps to support mental ill health in the workplace:
- Review your workplace’s current approach to mental health. Identify your wellbeing strategy and whether your culture genuinely encourages healthy working practices. Mental health first aid training best supports employees’ wellbeing as part of a wider mental health strategy.
- Assess the mental health support you currently offer. Establish whether employees understand how to access the services you offer, and whether they do engage with them. Is there anything you can do to improve signposting and/or uptake?
- Draft and distribute key policy documents in relation to the role of a mental health first aider. Such documents should outline the role’s key responsibilities, establish the time commitment involved and provide basic advice (such as encouraging mental health first aiders to always take accurate notes of meetings with employees, to report any immediate danger and to ensure that they routinely check in on their own wellbeing). You should seek legal advice on the drafting of these documents.
- Determine the number of mental health first aiders required for your organisation, advertise the role and invite employees to take part in a formal application process. In making a decision about suitability of employees to be mental health first aiders, employers should ask themselves whether the employee is able to maintain confidentiality and whether they are able to commit the relevant time required. Applications from employees from a wide variety of backgrounds should be encouraged.
- Signpost employees to the mental health first aider(s) by advising them as to what the role means, informing them of the relevant contacts and letting them how they can access the first aiders.
- Finally, in recognition of the potential pressure placed on mental health first aider(s) by virtue of the sensitive issues with which they may deal in that role, employers should continually touch base with any appointed first aiders to ensure they are coping with the role and that they too are receiving the support they require. Employers could consider establishing a mental health first aider network for the relevant people to touch base with each other on a regular basis.
Otherwise, employers should ensure they are complying with their aforementioned legal duties and, more generally, should strive to ensure that their culture and strategy supports employees’ physical and mental wellbeing.
Saull, P. (2023) Mental Health First Aid Law Proposed In Parliament, BBC News. BBC. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-64404427 (Accessed: February 13, 2023).