Implications of the Mental Health First Aid Bill
In 2022, there were 17 million sickness absences relating to stress, anxiety, and depression. In response to this growing issue, Conservative MP, Dean Russell, is introducing a new Bill which aims to make it a legal requirement for businesses to offer mental health first aid training. The bill seeks to provide better access to mental health resources by promoting mental health first aid training and ensuring that mental health services are more readily available. This article looks at the implications the Mental Health First Aid Bill will have on employers, the potential benefits, and any challenges its implementation might have.
What is the Proposed Mental Health First Aid Bill?
On the 25th of January 2023, under the Ten-Minute Rule, Mr Russell re-introduced a bill, making it a legal requirement for employers to provide mental health first aid training.
The bill was first introduced in 2021 by Mr Russell who cited the “Where’s Your Head At?” campaign as evidence of public support of the proposal. The campaign aimed to make it a legal requirement for all workplaces to have a mental health first aider and even received 200,000 signatures. However, in 2021 the bill failed to progress.
However, in Mr Russell’s ten-minute speech to the House of Commons this time, he stated that one of the biggest reasons he became a politician was to remove the stigma surrounding mental health. He followed up by stating that our collective experience of Covid pushed our focus on physical health and now we need to realign our priorities to ensure we also focus on mental well-being.
Mr Russell then added that employees spend a large proportion of their life at work. However, when they are struggling mentally, employees often feel the need to continue to maintain a sense of professionalism, preventing them from reaching out for help. He argued that if employers were legally required to have a mental health first aider, it would mean that a dedicated person would always be available to provide employees with “the help and support they need when they need it”.
What is the Ten-Minute Rule?
The ten-minute rule is a procedure used in the British Parliament to introduce a private member’s bill. Under this rule, a member is allowed to speak for ten minutes in favour of their proposed bill before a ballot is held to determine whether the bill will be debated further. The rule is intended to provide an opportunity for backbench MPs to raise issues of concern and potentially have them addressed through legislation.
How Will the Mental Health First Aid Bill Affect Employers?
An Employees Current Duty for Mental Health in the Workplace
As it stands, under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, employers have a duty of care to their employees. Therefore, employers must support their employees’ health, safety and well-being as far as is practical. This encompasses mental health and well-being. Employers have a duty to undertake a risk assessment and report any workplace factors that may contribute to or worsen an employee’s mental health.
It’s important to note that if an employee’s mental impairment substantially impacts their normal day-to-day activities in the long term, it is a legal disability. Therefore, employers should treat employees with long-standing mental health issues in accordance with the Equality Act 2010, and reasonable adjustments and provisions must be provided.
What the New Mental Health First Aid Bill Proposes
The new Mental Health First Aid Bill aims to make mental health first aid training mandatory in workplaces in England. This means that employers will have to invest in providing mental health support to their employees.
Additionally, employers will have to develop policies to identify and manage workplace mental health issues. This would result in additional costs for employers. However, Mr Russell adds, we should be looking at these costs in the context of the long-term. The positive economic impact for employers. For example, fewer sick days and better productivity. He hopes that further training could save lives.
The bill aims to increase an employer’s responsibility for the mental health and well-being of their employees. Some ways in which an employer can create a supportive work culture to help employees deal with mental health issues are:
- Encourage open communication – Employers can create an environment where employees feel they can communicate their mental health concerns without fear of judgement or discrimination.
- Provide mental health training and resources – Employers can invest in mental health wellbeing training for managers. Additionally, they can provide access to mental health hotlines, employee assistance programs, and counselling services.
- Promote a healthy work-life balance – Employers can encourage employees to take breaks. Additionally, they can provide flexible work arrangements and promote a healthy work-life balance.
- Offer mental health days – Employers can choose to offer their employees mental health days, so employees can take time off to focus on their mental health.
- Set a good example – Employers can lead by example, by prioritising their own mental health and promoting mental health awareness in the workplace.
Mental Health First Aid Bill Concerns
Some former board members of an organisation offering mental health first aid training are stating that making it a legal requirement could compound concerns about how the responsibility could affect those carrying out the role.
Lee Chambers, a psychologist at Essentialise Workplace Wellbeing, warns of the imposition of legal requirements for mental health first aid training. He states that it could do more harm than good if not observed in the context of a broader well-being strategy that encourages flexibility, a healthy approach to work/life balance and which signposts other mental health initiatives. He claims that mental health first aid training would be “one of the last added value things” that employers should introduce in a mental health scheme.
Harry Bliss, CEO and co-founder of Champion Health, states “there is a danger that this becomes a tick-box exercise for organisations”.
Further Reading of the Bill
Dean Russell’s Bill was presented with zero objections. Therefore, it proceeded to a further reading on 24 February 2023. Despite its further reading, it should be noted that Bills produced under the Ten-Minute Rule do not often become law. To date, only 60 Bills have been passed through this Rule.
Whether or not the Bill will come to law, employers should always ensure they are complying with employment law and striving to create a workplace culture that supports both the mental and physical well-being of their employees.
All advice is correct at time of publication.