Mental Health First Aid in the Workplace

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:11 pm on 17th January 2019.

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Photo of Gerald Jones Gerald Jones Shadow Minister (Defence) 2:11 pm, 17th January 2019

I rise to speak briefly in support of the motion. In doing so, I congratulate the three Members who brought the application for the debate to the Backbench Business Committee. In particular, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Luciana Berger for the work she has done over a long period on this important issue.

As we know, poor mental health impacts on so many people across our country at various points in their lives. As we have heard, it will likely impact on one in four of us to a varying degree at some point in our lives. We know that more support is required to help people suffering from mental ill health in the workplace—support to halt people from deteriorating and to help them back to better mental health. I took part in a mental health first aid training course in a previous employment. It was a worthwhile experience that opened my eyes to the things to look out for and put me in a better position to provide help and support to colleagues. I recommend it to anybody.

I fully appreciate—it was the reason for this debate—that not all employers across the UK offer this training to employees, and that should change. Evidence suggests that 83% of employees in workplaces where mental health first aid is offered have seen an improvement in signposting to mental health support. That is significant. We also know that it helps anyone experiencing a period of poor mental health to talk. From speaking to organisations such as Merthyr and the Valleys Mind in my constituency, I know how important it is to have that opportunity to talk to someone. That is hugely important in the context of work colleagues, so for employers to treat support for mental health on a parity with physical health would be a big step forward. As we have heard a number of times during the debate, talking would also help raise awareness across society and help in some way to end the stigmas of the past.

We know that periods of mental ill health can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender or background. We know that there are serious issues with post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues in our armed forces. We know that the issue affects a lot of men, particularly young men. Suicide is still the biggest cause of death for men under 45. If there was more awareness, particularly in workplaces, and especially those that are male-dominated, it would do much to support those suffering from mental ill health and provide an opportunity to intervene at an early stage.

Having more support for mental health in the workplace makes sense from a financial perspective, as workplace mental health issues cost the UK economy billions of pounds a year. However, while the financial position is of concern, the cost to individuals, their families and their quality of life is much more concerning. We know that some 300,000 people with long-term mental health conditions lose their jobs every year. Left untreated, mental ill health impacts on a person’s relationships with friends and family and ultimately their quality of life. As I have highlighted, many have said in recent years that mental health should have the same focus as physical health, although for a variety of reasons that does not yet appear to be happening.

As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree, the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 made it a legal necessity for workplaces to train someone in medical first aid. If we are to have parity of mental and physical health, we need to make changes. As the motion states, the Government should change the law to provide a clear direction to employers regarding their responsibility not only for physical health but for mental health.

Workplaces would benefit from having trained mental health first aiders. It would provide not only a financial benefit to the economy, but a positive impact on many people’s wellbeing. I hope the Government will take note and act quickly.