Labour AM calls for better mental health “first aid”

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Jack Sargeant AM (Lab, Alyn & Deeside) used his short debate yesterday to press for better mental health care for employees within the workplace, highlighting the work of the “Where’s Your Head At” campaign.

Poor mental health costs the UK economy £35billion a year. He was pleased that mental health has been prioritised as part of the Welsh Government’s new economic contract with companies seeking Welsh Government support.

“….we need to share best practice, but we also need to ensure that other employers equalise their number of mental health first aiders. Cost cannot be a reason for objections, because having mental health first aiders in the workplace will lead to savings in the long-term future. I want Wales, and I want the Welsh Government, to lead the way on this issue. If we succeed here in Wales, others will follow and others will succeed too.”
– Jack Sargeant AM

David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central) said his own mental health problems had caused workplace issues and called for more consistent policies. As Wales’ largest employer, he believed the NHS was best placed to share best practice. Mohammad Asghar AM (Con, South Wales East) said three-quarters of people with a mental health problem have no treatment.

Rhianon Passmore AM (Lab, Islwyn) blamed ongoing pressure caused by austerity, inflation and welfare reform.

In reply, the Health Minister, Vaughan Gething (Lab, Cardiff S. & Penarth), said he often encountered workplace discrimination against the mentally ill in his previous role as an employment lawyer. It was right that this wasn’t being considered a health issue, but a broader economic one.

The Welsh Government will continue to finance in-work support:

“….since we launched Healthy Working Wales in 2016, the scheme has already provided therapeutic interventions to 3,500 employees, including over 1,300 people with mental health conditions. That’s helped over 2,500 people to remain in work and another 430 to return to work, and it’s also helped nearly 2,000 small and medium businesses to reduce the business impact of sickness absence. In November last year, an additional £9.4 million of EU and Welsh Government funding was announced to continue the in-work support service to December 2022.”
– Health Minister, Vaughan Gething

He accepted there was still more to do to address stigmas associated with mental ill health and targeted help for men, rural residents and Welsh-speakers who are all perhaps marginalised in terms of mental health support.