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Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
Dean Russell Portrait Dean Russell (Watford) (Con)
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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.

This is my second attempt to bring this Bill to the House, and as before, I will speak about the sensitive topics of mental health and suicide, share the scale of public support through the excellent “Where’s Your Head At?” campaign, outline the economic and business benefits, and share why the Bill will bring hope to those who are struggling to cope in times of difficulty. Ultimately, at the heart of the Bill is a simple request: to create parity between mental health and physical health first aid in the workplace.

There is no doubting that the world has changed, not only in post-covid era but through the rise in technology, the relentlessness of social media, and an “always-on” culture. Our working environments are shifting rapidly but we, as humans, have not changed. We still have emotions; we still feel love and loss, happiness and grief, and joy and pain. We have goals and ambitions, and hopes and expectations. Sometimes they can be overwhelming, and at times we can find it hard to express how we feel. When we feel vulnerable, we may find it hard to know who to speak to when times are tough.

In my previous attempt to introduce the Bill, I spoke about the impact of hearing, as a teenager, my sister sob when she heard the news of a friend’s death by suicide. To frame the importance of this Bill, I ask those listening to think for a moment about someone they may have lost in their own lives. What would we all give to hold a loved one’s hand just one more time, to hear them knock at the door just once more, or to have just one more conversation? What would we give to have that loved one here today?

As I have said before, if suicide were a virus, we would be on the hunt for a vaccine. If loneliness were a disease, would we not search for a cure? At the extreme end, we are talking about saving lives with this Bill. The House of Commons Library reports that in 2021 alone, 6,319 deaths by suicide were registered in Great Britain. Although suicide rates have declined over recent decades, and, thankfully, the 20th-century stigma and shame around mental health have shifted, there is always more to do. That is why I am backing “Baton of Hope”, a new charity campaign that is part of a growing movement aspiring to a zero-suicide society. Achieving that will not be easy, and of course we cannot bring back those we have lost, but with early intervention and—through the Bill—the right signposting at the right time, we could prevent the loss of others.

The Bill is not just about preventing suicide, as important as that is. It is also about reflecting the reality of modern society, especially post covid. There is no doubt that mental health issues are on the rise. Stress, depression and anxiety have become the leading cause of lost working days since the 1990s. Let me share some data. The Centre for Mental Health estimates that 10 million more people will need mental health support as a direct result of the pandemic. That growing need was perhaps reflected most strongly this week, when it was announced that £150 million of additional funding for mental health services was going into the system. I was pleased that Watford General Hospital in my constituency received £355,000 for mental health services to support my constituents and those across west Hertfordshire.

According to the British Safety Council and the Health and Safety Executive, nearly 1 million workers who suffer work-related stress, depression or anxiety will lose an average of 18.6 days a year. That is in the context of 17 million days lost due to poor mental health in 2021 and 2022. That brings me to the all-important business benefits of this Bill.

According to a 2022 report by Deloitte on mental health at work, the cost of mental health to UK businesses is a staggering £56 billion a year. According to GoodShape, a business in my constituency that partners with leading organisations to track and improve the wellbeing of staff, 54% of workers who take more than two days of leave due to mental health-related absences will go on to leave their job. The Deloitte report also indicates that the return on investing in staff is good, with £5 back for every £1 spent, so it cannot be argued that the investment is not worthwhile.

A pre-pandemic report indicated that a new thing called presenteeism, where employees are physically at work but not productive, was costing UK employers up to £29 billion a year. Where presenteeism relates to mental health, it can have a more detrimental impact on absences. Ensuring mental health is firmly on the business agenda is not a burden, but an investment that ultimately benefits a business’s bottom line. There is real public support, too, thanks to the work of Natasha Devon and “Where’s Your Head At?”, for which I am proud to be an official ambassador. More than 200,000 people signed a petition supporting the principles behind this Bill way before I joined Parliament.

I have seen the benefits directly myself. In my constituency of Watford, I set an ambition to train 1,000 people in mental health first aid awareness, which I originally anticipated would take about a decade to achieve. Incredibly, we have just reached the 600th person trained by that programme, thanks to the incredible support of Camelot and the Watford and West Herts chamber of commerce. Many more are trained locally through other schemes, too, and that is because there are now many more providers of mental health first aid and mental health first aid awareness training. Some, such as the Mental Health First Aid England group, which helped with some insights for my speech today, offer many other courses, and Departments offer free courses, which are available to many.

I would not seek to limit the options or be too prescriptive, because workplaces are diverse. From offices to hair salons, and from construction sites to supermarkets, each worker is different. Behind every statistic is a person with family and friends. They are our mothers, our brothers, our sisters and our fathers. They are the veterans and the volunteers. That is why I believe the power in this Bill lies in making sure it is flexible enough to work for all. We spend so much time in the workplace, yet we cannot always be ourselves when we are there. It can be hard to show our true face when times are tough, because we aim as always to be professional.

People do not wear bandages to show where they have anxiety and depression. Many learn to hide their pain in fear of damaging their career. Many learn to smile, when really they would like to run a mile to escape the situation they find themselves in. I must be clear that mental health first aiders are not expected to be counsellors or psychologists, but just like physical first aiders, who are not expected to be paramedics or surgeons, this Bill will simply mean that workers have someone to signpost them to the support and help they need when they need it.

Before I conclude, I take this short opportunity to say to anyone listening to this speech who may be having difficulties right now that tough times can pass. Sometimes the mind can be a cruel echo chamber full of unwanted thoughts and hurt. Speaking can be a powerful release valve, reducing the pressure and stress. Please ask for help if you need it. It is not a weakness to ask for help; it is a strength.

To the Minister sitting on the Front Bench, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield), I say that I truly hope the Government will also have the strength to back this Bill. Yes, I am back for a second time. Unfortunately, I never give up, and I will not give up on this Bill. Even if I did, there are so many more behind me who would want to make it happen. This is not a request that will go away, and I will be back again if needed. This Bill would make a small change with a massive impact. I humbly request that it be given due consideration and passed into law.

Question put and agreed to.


That Dean Russell, Andy Carter, Jonathan Gullis, Jim Shannon, Virginia Crosbie, Dr Neil Hudson, Nick Fletcher, Lia Nici, Siobhan Baillie, Sarah Atherton, David Duguid and Debbie Abrahams present the Bill.

Dean Russell accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 February, and to be printed (Bill 236.)