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First-Aid (Mental Health)

Volume 691: debated on Tuesday 23 March 2021

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

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.

I can still vividly recall, when I was a teenager, the sound of my sister as she sobbed and cried each night following the news that one of her best friends, someone I had always looked up to, had committed suicide. That was nearly 30 years ago, but I can still 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.

The Bill makes a simple request: to make mental health first aid part of normal physical workplace first aid in workplaces across the country. In doing so, we may not only save lives but change lives too. My proposal is a simple one. It is to ask not for a recommendation or a guideline but for a law to ensure that all workplaces have the right capacity to deal with people who may be going through difficulties. We now live in a society where mental health issues are on the rise, and as a society today we have a greater appreciation than ever before 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 the Bill is not asking too much of business. Just as physical first aiders are not expected to be trained 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 done through mandating accredited mental health first aider training, or perhaps just through requiring the inclusion of the existing Public Health England psychological first aid training.

The proposal in the Bill is not new to Parliament. Over two years ago, thanks to the excellent work of Natasha Devon and the Where’s Your Head At campaign, for which I am now proud to be an official ambassador, this topic was debated in a Backbench Business Committee debate. We all know, though, that times have changed dramatically since then. Given the impact of the covid crisis on the mental health of the nation, the world is drastically different today. Back then, this was important; today, it is both urgent and essential.

The proposal 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 1,000 mental health first aiders, and with the incredible support of Camelot, Watford chamber of commerce, the Wellspring Church and many other 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 to take the steps to do so and we are inspiring others too. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie) has already signed up 100 people to train as mental health first aiders, and I am sure that many others will follow.

But the Bill aims even higher. It will mean that every workplace will have a mental health first aider. Just imagine what impact that could have and the people it could help before they required more urgent support. It would mean that the first aiders in every workplace would not just save lives through CPR but change lives by asking people how they are. Just as workplaces are diverse, from offices to barber shops and train stations to supermarkets, each member of staff is also different. They are our mothers, our brothers, our sisters and our fathers. They are the veterans and they are the volunteers. They are all of us: all the experiences and all the emotions that we each carry with us, in times of grief, loneliness, anxiety, stress, love and loss.

But this is not just an emotional argument for the 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 work days—imagine that. It is estimated that one in seven workers who have taken time off due to covid related issues will also take time off due to poor mental health. It is also estimated that workers who take sick leave more than twice are 63% more likely to leave their job. This is a big issue for business.

At the truly heartbreaking moment when we look at these figures, there is an even starker example. When a person takes their own life, it is estimated that the full cost to the country, from court cases to funerals to coroners’ fees, is £1.7 million for every individual suicide—never mind the devastating loss that is caused.

I know the Government are taking mental health seriously, especially with the impact of covid. Unprecedented sums of money are being spent on mental health—£14 billion in the past year. I am also pleased that the Health and Safety Executive has included mental health first aid in its official guidelines. However, the Bill would build on all that. Given the toll that the pandemic has had on our nation’s mental health, this proposal cannot be controversial. Just as having physical first aiders is the norm and has been for decades, this Bill gives parity to mental health.

As we move forward, surely it is only right that we do not put all the pressure of tackling the stigma of mental health 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 to make it okay to ask somebody in the workplace if they are okay. We cannot say enough times that it is not a weakness to ask for help: it is a strength.

I have a phrase you have may heard before, Madam Deputy Speaker, which is that hope is an acronym—HOPE: help one person everyday. With this Bill, we could help millions. To be clear, the Bill is not asking for billions from the Treasury. It is not contentious. It helps individuals, business, society and the economy, and it could help the nation heal as we all emerge from this unprecedented crisis. 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 each other, together. But as we return together to the workplace, we will also need to 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 that this Bill will play a small, practical part in ensuring that our nation can heal together too.

I humbly request that this Bill be given due consideration and passed into law. I ask the Government, with great respect: if not now, when; and if not, why not?

Question put and agreed to.


That Dean Russell, Jeremy Hunt, Virginia Crosbie, James Sunderland, Dr Luke Evans, Robin Millar, Antony Higginbotham, Jerome Mayhew, Mark Logan, Duncan Baker, Tom Hunt and Jeff Smith present the Bill.

Dean Russell accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 278).

On that happy note, I will now briefly suspend the House for three minutes so that preparations can be made for the next item of business.

Sitting suspended.