By Nazmin Akthar (Co-Chair of MWNUK)
The prevalence of
mental health matters in our society is no secret. We have all heard the
statistics; 1 in 4 people will experience mental health issues of some
kind each year, whilst 1 in 6 people will report experiencing issues such as
anxiety and depression in any given week in England. We are also very aware that
depression can be particularly high in Muslim communities (in comparison
to the general population), and this is especially the case for Muslim women.
It goes without saying that there is an urgent need to ensure appropriate support and care for those with mental health issues
If the situation was critical before, the volcano has most certainly erupted in the last year and it is believed that the mental health effects of the pandemic will be felt by many for many years. It goes without saying that there is an urgent need to ensure appropriate support and care for those with mental health issues, and to also promote wellbeing techniques that would help minimise and prevent mental ill-health. Awareness raising initiatives have been very helpful in this regard. Thank you to all individuals who have been honest enough to publicly share their own experiences throughout the pandemic; it takes great courage to speak about your own mental health issues and to do so in order to encourage others to seek help and so they do not feel alone, is highly commendable. Thank you also to all those unsung heroes who have been a saviour to someone going through a difficult time by simply being there – by listening, by caring.
However, it is also important to be very honest about our own limitations and understand that, whilst talking to family, friends and colleagues absolutely helps, sometimes much more support may be needed. Not everyone is equipped to have every mental health related discussion, nor will an individual always feel able to share every detail with someone they know. Moreover, we all have our own individual share of difficulties to deal with. Sometimes it may be necessary to prioritise your own mental health and wellbeing at any given time, for both yourself and for others because you simply cannot help others if you yourself are running on an empty tank. However, it is absolutely essential that no one ever slips through the net.
This is why it is critical that steps are taken to ensure that appropriate support is available at all times to those who need it; mental health support should not be dependent on how good a support network you have through family and friends and of course, such a support network may not always be sufficient. In addition to providing adequate funding and resources to the NHS and third sector organisations that provide mental health support (such as MWN Helpline), we also need to look at ensuring concrete support in the workplace.
One such step would be to make it a compulsory requirement to have mental health first aid trained individuals in the workplace.
One such step would be to make it a compulsory requirement to have mental health first aid trained individuals in the workplace. The Health & Safety (First Aid) Regulations 1981 requires employers to provide equipment and facilities that are adequate and appropriate for enabling first-aid to be rendered to employees where they are injured or become ill at work. However, whilst having individuals in the workplace trained in mental health first aid is certainly recommended, it is not an absolute requirement.
The result is a pot-luck lottery whereby some places of employment are better able to provide mental health support than others. Some workplaces may be very good at supporting awareness-raising initiatives but despite the very best of intentions, they are unequipped to provide support in the event of disclosure due to a lack of training. Some others are also sadly treating mental health awareness raising strategies as PR exercises, which means their organisational messages may not be translating into actual promotion of positive mental health and wellbeing at a ground level.
There are many positives to making the provision of those trained in mental health first aid in the workplace a compulsory requirement. By doing so, we will be able to ensure that a proper assessment can be carried out of the support that may be needed and employers can work collaboratively with employees and with confidence. It will send out a strong message to all that mental health is just as important as physical health, meaning that employers cannot simply pay lip-service to the mental wellbeing of employees, whilst employees may feel more able to seek help as they will know they have a right to access such help. It will also help reduce the stigma and ultimately, the better the wellbeing of employees, the more profitable an organisation. There are therefore clear economic reasons too for this proposal.
On 23rd March 2021, Dean Russell MP introduced the ‘First Aid (Mental Health) Bill' with the aim of making mental health first aid a part of regular first-aid training requirements, which would ultimately achieve the aim of having mental health first aid trained individuals in the workplace. It is imperative that this Bill is supposed and hope that we can see it become law sooner rather than later because quite simply, we do not have time to wait.
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