A new law requiring businesses to offer mental health first aid training has been presented to the UK parliament.
Are new mental health laws on their way?
The new Bill (a document that outlines any newly proposed legislation to be considered by the UK parliament) is aimed at addressing the rise in mental health issues in the workplace. In recent times, and especially since the COVID-19 pandemic, when many employees were forced to work from home, returning to the workplace, along with other issues, such as the current cost of living crisis, has resulted in a massive increase in cases of workplace stress.
Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Dean Russell told the House of Commons that the move would 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. Mr Russell told his fellow MPs that requiring mental health first aid training in the workplace would save lives.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday, January 25th, 2023, Mr Russell said,
“People do not always wear bandages to show where they have anxiety and depression. This Bill will simply mean that workers have a person to signpost them to the help and support they need, when they need it.”
Old idea, new perspective
The concept of offering mental health training in the workplace is not a new one. In fact, the idea has been discussed for several years now. In 2018, a petition for the “Where’s Your Head At!” campaign for a mandatory mental health first aider in every place of work attracted more than 200,000 signatures.
The extra training required under the new Bill 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 in 2022 – a startling statistic.
Time to make a difference
Mr Russell believes the change could limit the long-term impact on businesses and the NHS and ultimately save lives. He told the Commons,
“We cannot bring back those we have lost. But through early intervention and ensuring the right signposting at the right time, we could prevent losing others in the future through this Bill.”
On Wednesday, Mr Russell proposed the new law as a Ten Minute Rule Bill. Although there is rarely enough parliamentary time for Ten Minute Rule Bills to become law, they represent an avenue for MPs to raise awareness of issues. In fact, Mr Russel attempted to bring forward similar legislation in 2021, but the Bill failed to go any further.
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.”
What is mental health first aid?
Since it was founded in Australia more than a decade ago, mental health first aid training has spread worldwide to New Zealand, the US, Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and the UK.
The aim of mental health first aid, according to those who oversee its implementation, is to increase the mental health literacy of members of the community, including reducing stigmatization of the illness and people learning simple first aid skills to be able to see mental illness as like any other illness.
In England, the training is run by a social enterprise company, MHFA England. It would like to see mental health training given equal prominence to physical first aid training and says this is already starting to happen.
What do you think of the Bill and its aims? Do you believe that mental health first aid in the workplace is a realistic prospect? Let us know in the comments.