Since my last commentary in February 2023 regarding the First Aid (Mental Health) Bill introduced by Dean Russell MP, the discourse surrounding its efficacy and applicability has considerably evolved. As someone who has progressed from senior managerial roles to becoming a health and wellbeing consultant and a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Instructor, I find it imperative to provide a nuanced perspective on the subject.
The Bill’s second reading was initially scheduled for February but is now scheduled for 24 November, after a statement released in April. Several employment bodies, including the Council for Work & Health (CfWH) and the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), have called for a more comprehensive approach towards mental health in the workplace, citing that MHFA should be part of a multifaceted intervention strategy. They emphasise that MHFA alone cannot suffice as a solution for workplace mental health issues.
In my earlier career, I was part of what critics term the ‘tick box brigade’, sceptical of how much change standalone interventions like MHFA could affect. I had already undertaken physical first-aid training multiple times across various organisations, recognising its fundamental importance. However, my perspective radically shifted during the lockdown when I decided to broaden my services and undergo MHFA England instructor training.
When I completed the course myself, pondering the advantages of being a physical first aider both professionally and personally, the true potential of MHFA became palpable to me. This personal transformation led me to embrace the role of an MHFA instructor, which I see as complementary to existing initiatives and fundamentally valuable. For example, Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), which I also deliver on behalf of the UK’s largest provider, have an engagement rate within companies as low as 10%. MHFA can bridge this gap by raising awareness and making mental health discussions more routine.
The critiques of MHFA as a single intervention are valid but not strong enough to dismiss the programme outright. These reservations primarily focus on the potential for it to become a ‘tick box exercise,’ with risks to confidentiality and a lack of support for mental health first aiders. While I concur with these concerns, I argue that they also existed before physical first aid became a workplace standard. MHFA, like any intervention, needs to be part of an integrated mental health strategy, but its absence would be a glaring omission.
As we look towards the future, it’s clear that doing nothing isn’t an option. MHFA should be seen not as an end but as an essential component in a broad spectrum of interventions aimed at fostering a mentally healthier, more compassionate work environment. In my own practice, the dual roles of a health and wellbeing consultant and an MHFA instructor enable me to bring a balanced, lived experience to the table.
This Bill should prompt further legislation and engagement from all stakeholders in defining what mental health support in the workplace should look like. The key is to strike a balance, drawing from various perspectives and solutions—my journey and professional transition are a testament to the potential for evolution in this critical dialogue.
I eagerly await the second reading of the First Aid (Mental Health) Bill and the consequential discussions that are bound to follow as the UK attempts to tackle the escalating mental health crisis that confronts us all.