MP Dean Russell Mental Health First Aid Law Campaign

Tory MP for Watford Dean Russel MHFA Training Bill Proposal

On 25th January, Tory MP for Watford, Dean Russell, reintroduced a Bill proposing a legal requirement for all employers to provide mental health first aid training (click for video).

Dean Russell MP Watford
Mental Health First Aid Bill

The Mental Health (First Aid) Bill can be read here.

It is the second time Dean Russell has proposed this law, with the original reading happening on 23rd March 2021.

The proposal was delivered to the House of Commons while nearly empty.

The proposal leans heavily on emotive discussion around suicide, before going on to mention stress, depression and anxiety as the leading cause of lost work days since the 1990s, that the Centre for Mental Health esimates that 10 million more people will need mental health support as a direct result of the pandemic, and Deloitte’s estimated cost of Mental Illness to the ecomomy at £56 billion per year.

Dean Russell also featured in a video with Boris Johnson (click for video), launching a campaign to train 1000 people in Mental Health First Aid awareness, in partnership with the Watford & West Herts Chamber of Commerce and several community groups in Watford.

The first reading of the Bill, on 25th January 2023 was accepted. This is the first or twelve key stages required to enact a law.

The second reading of the Bill, which is the second of the twelve stages, will be the 24th February 2023.

Problems with the proposed Bill

We found the proposal a little confusing, both in terms of what the Bill was proposing, and how it was to be implemented.

On the implementation, mental health first aid training was proposed to be part of existing physical first aid training.

However, physical first aid training is not a legal obligation for employers.

The current law requires all employers to have someone appointed to take charge of first aid in the workplace.

But they do not need to be a fully trained first aider.

In relation to what is being proposed, the UK Health and Safety Executive state:

“The Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations 1981 require employers to provide adequate and appropriate equipment, facilities and personnel to ensure their employees receive immediate attention if they are injured or taken ill at work.”

Therefore, there is already a legal obligation for organisations to have “first aiders” to provide immediate attention for both physical and mental illnesses.

Employers already have a legal obligation to provide adequate and appropriate equipment, facilities and personnel to support employees suffering from mental health illness at work.

Furthermore, we have legislation such as the Equality Act 2010, under which organisations can be prosecuted if they fail to make reasonable adjustment for employees with long term mental health issues, and the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 could also be used to protect mentally vulnerable individuals from inappropriate behaviours in the workplace.

There are also UK laws that require employers to conduct risk assessments for mental “psychosocial” health and safety, adopt policies, etc.

So, the mental health first aid training Bill appears to propose laws that already exist.

What we believe is really needed is policing and prosecution for existing laws, such that organisations have more reason to adequately consider mental health matters, including prevention of mental illness through positive psychology.

The Problem with Mental Health First Aid Training

It is good that an effort is being made to help employees suffering from mental health issues.

However, we see a number of problems with the proposal, specifically relating to mental health first aid as the main intervention.

  1. Various independent studies found that mental health first aid training helps the attendees themselves to understand more about mental illness conditions, but that it does not change or help the wider organistion or the people struggling. MHFA training may not be an effective way to help organisations.
  2. Mental health first aid is reactive. It is like putting an ambulance at the bottom of a cliff, waiting for people to fall off. It is known in the medical community as a “tertiary intervention” (i.e. third level), that applies when Primary (deal with the trigger) and Secondary (deal with the response) interventions have been inadequate. Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) are also normally a tertiary intervention. New legal changes should help to reduce the occurance of mental illness, rather than being focused on dealing with the consequences.
  3. There are no standards governing mental health first aid training. Without minimum objectives, agenda and qualifications, there is no consistency of training materials, or empirical evidence of their effectiveness.

Find more in our blog on the limitations of Mental Health First Aid Training.

Who is Dean Russell?

Dean Russell was born 8 May 1976, and is now a politician with the UK’s Conservative Party.

Dean became the Member of Parliament (MP) for Watford since the 2019 general election.

He also has a wife and daughter.

Tory Dean Russells 10 minute rule MHFA Bill Proposal

Watch the video of Tory Dean Russell presenting his proposed mental health first aid training Bill in the House of Commons, under the Ten Minute Rule.

Dean Russell’s MHFA Campaign

Support for Workplace Wellbeing

At Focusing Minds, we help organisations adopt a strategic approach to workplace wellbeing, which can include accelerated mental health first aid training, in addition to mental wellbeing training for staff, managers, executives and champions, because the more people that know about mental health matters, the better an organisation will do at helping their staff.

For more details, contact us here:

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