I recently hosted an important reception in our Parliament. It was part of an international meeting about mental health approaches, and showcased work to improve support to people in distress, as quickly as possible. This has been piloted in our Health Board and Council area, and I was really pleased to see our local police, NHS and Social Work staff involved.
So often, there is no help for people unless they end up in an emergency situation, so Public Service workers are being trained to recognise symptoms of distress early on; emotional distress that may have an associated risk but doesn’t necessarily require emergency intervention. They are trained to deal sensitively with this and help appropriately. The quicker help can be offered, surely we can help to avoid later crises.
Mental health has been better considered over the last few years with more understanding that good mental health should be on a par with good physical health. Much of that is due to awareness campaigns by various charities and groups, local and national, to end the stigma and misconceptions – the “See Me” campaign by SAMH (Scottish Association for Mental Health) is a good example – and not least by the bravery of those who are willing to stand up and say “I have a mental health problem, and it’s as valid as any other health problem”.
There’s still a way to go, though our current Scottish Government was the first in the UK to appoint a dedicated Mental Health Minister, the first to introduce waiting time targets and mental health spending is at record levels.
There is a far better recognition these days of the necessity for early intervention in mental health matters, that’s why the programme being piloted in Lanarkshire has attracted international attention and is being studied closely. The Scottish Government’s Mental Health Strategy includes action points that mental health training for non-mental health staff should be available across health and social care services, and that training in first aid approaches for mental health should become as common as those for physical first aid.
Of course if we’re serious about early intervention then the mental health of our young people is hugely important. There is a far greater recognition of this these days, thus more of a demand for child and adolescent mental health services. I know from my local work in East Kilbride that the service is under pressure. This is true across Scotland, even though our government has increased the number of people working in child and adolescent mental health by more than 50% over the last decade.
The Mental Health Strategy includes some strong ambitions in this regard – appropriate access to emotional and mental well-being support in schools, and mental health support and treatment for young people involved in offending. The Scottish Government is working closely with SAMH to review reasons as to why some children and young people are rejected for mental health services after a referral. That’s a question I have been asked by parents in East Kilbride, and by young people themselves.
The Youth Commission on Mental Health started their work last month, young people researching services available specifically for young people, in partnership with the Scottish Government and Young Scot. They are gathering evidence on existing services, encouraging debate amongst their peers and making recommendations for Ministers and service providers on how child and adolescent mental health services can be improved.
As part of the Scottish Government’s ongoing work on mental health services available to young people, we have to ensure every child will get appropriate support in school. There must be a roll-out of mental health training for those who support children and young people in schools.
Yes, there has been an increase in awareness of mental health issues in recent years. Yes, it would be fair to say governments have not always given mental health the same emphasis as they do physical health. That’s changing. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but we are determined to develop the transformational change already started in our mental health services. I was well-chuffed in our Parliament last week to see East Kilbride and Lanarkshire recognised as part of that.