Mental Health First Aid in the Workplace

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:40 pm on 17th January 2019.

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Photo of Jon Cruddas Jon Cruddas Labour, Dagenham and Rainham 1:40 pm, 17th January 2019

It is good to see the subject of mental health in the workplace being discussed this afternoon, and I obviously congratulate colleagues from all parties who have secured the debate. To echo the point made in both speeches so far, given the recent discussions here, it is good that Members can come together and discuss subjects of national significance in a spirit of fraternity.

It seems to me that there are two basic elements to today’s debate: first, how to implore employers to accept their responsibilities to do more; and, secondly, to take the opportunity to showcase good practice in our communities, where employers are stepping up to the challenges in offering mental health first aid.

As we know, the backdrop is that we are increasingly aware of the scale of the mental health challenges we face. For example, one in four of us will experience a mental health issue at some point in our lives, according to the World Health Organisation. As has been mentioned, the report by Lord Dennis Stevenson and Paul Farmer, “Thriving at work”, has highlighted the costs of poor mental health provisions in the workplace. They suggest that some 300,000 people with long-term mental health issues lose their jobs every year, that poor mental health costs employers billions of pounds each year and that the economy in turn loses billions per year as a result.

The numbers are staggering and quite extraordinary, but the subject of our discussion is not really a question of overall economic utility; it is the suffering of our fellow citizens, and what a good society and what good employers should be doing about these profound challenges. We should think of it this way: a Business in the Community publication, “Mental Health at Work”, has found that 15% of employees face dismissal, demotion or disciplinary action after disclosing a mental health issue at work, which could mean that this reality applies to some 1.2 million people of working age in the UK. It has also told us that just 11% of employees felt able to disclose mental health issues to their line manager. These figures are appalling, so things have to change. That is why employers must do more to address these issues.

On the other hand, as I said, we should use this debate to highlight new initiatives where employers are stepping up to meet their responsibilities. I therefore want to reference the workplace mental health work of a company at the heart of my constituency—the Ford Motor Company.

Throughout last year, many Members may have seen or caught sight of the “Elephant in the Transit” film, which the Ford Motor Company put out, which was aired in TV ad breaks, in cinemas and, more generally, across social media in order to raise awareness of mental health issues. It is a short film—I would guess of only 30 seconds—and contains a pretty simple but very smart message. Basically, there are two young, working class lads in a Transit, and between them sits this massive elephant as the lads chat about their plans for the weekend. One clocks that his mate is not quite right—he has learned to see the signs—so he pulls over the truck to talk to him about it all. It is spot-on, and it really is aimed at a key demographic in this area—young, working-class males. In this instance, Ford has teamed up with Time to Change. It has sought to cut through the stigma, especially among young, working-class males, so that we can more openly discuss mental health issues.

This is not an isolated initiative on Ford’s behalf. It has also been working with Mental Health First Aid England to launch a training programme to reduce stigma, to encourage people to speak out more about mental health and to find safe, non-confrontational spaces to talk. The idea is that, through this training, Ford dealers and managers will understand how to act as a first point of contact for a colleague developing or experiencing a mental health issue.

The training is to teach people to spot the signs of mental health issues, offer initial first aid help and guide a person towards the appropriate support, as well as about how to listen non-judgmentally, reassure and respond, even in a crisis. The training can also help stop preventable issues arising by building a supportive culture around mental health. It is to equip Ford’s key people in these roles with the skills to talk about mental health with confidence and without judgment. The way the company want to normalise the topic of mental health among their workers has impressed me, so today we should acknowledge such initiatives.

Ford has also backed the “Where’s Your Head At?” campaign—it was mentioned earlier—which is calling for change in workplace health and safety laws to protect mental health in the same way as physical health. If successful, it will ensure that every workplace provides mental health first aid as well as physical first aid, helping those in need at the earliest possible opportunity. Again, Ford has been working with Mental Health First Aid England for the training. Overall, I think we can agree that it is the responsibility of British employers to ensure that provision for mental health issues in the workplace meets the necessary standards.

I have to admit that I have many times taken chunks out of employers for what they have not done, and that includes the Ford Motor Company many times, compared with what they should be doing. Given that tendency, it is up to me to highlight good practice by the self-same employers. It seems to me that these initiatives by Ford should be acknowledged and put on the record in the debate today. More generally and simply put, it is good that we have time to talk about this subject this afternoon. Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me a few minutes to make a few points.