Liberal Democrats mark World Mental Health Day

Today is World Mental Health Day.

For me it’s a day to reflect on how far we have come since I started to suffer from mental ill health as a child. Forty years ago, nobody understood the desperate, isolating, all-engulfing Depression that I couldn’t shake off, that took every ounce of my energy just to get through the day. I remember trying to talk about it to a friend once, and she scared the living daylights out of me, telling me I’d be locked up in a hospital if anyone found out.

There was the exhausting anxiety which punctuated every day – not helped by the fact that round every corner there might be another bully lurking to shout “Yak” at me. That’s what they called me at school. I just wish I’d had Google then to reassure me that, whatever my tormentors meant, these beasts were actually kind of cute.

My teens were a struggle and because I didn’t get the help I needed, I either didn’t cope very well or developed some fairly unhelpful strategies to deal with it. Comfort eating for one.

We can perhaps be a little bit proud of ourselves as a society that four decades on, we are at least attempting to tackle the stigma around mental health, so that no young person need fear that they are going to be locked up.

However, we should also be ashamed that this new openness has not been accompanied by the provision of sufficient support services for people with mental ill health.

There is one area I want to focus on – the transition from child to adult mental health services. Once you get into the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service, you can actually get some pretty reasonable support. It’s arranged in a fairly logical way with consultants, psychologists and nurses working together to support young people. Unfortunately not every young person who needs help can get it at all, and most have to wait far too long.  It is not uncommon to wait for more than a year to even see a specialist.

Mental health issues generally aren’t resolved overnight, so you have a year of turmoil while you are waiting to be seen and, maybe another couple of years of reasonably intensive support – and then you turn 18. All the effort put into helping you is now at risk as you are put into the virtually non-existent twilight world of adult mental health services which are disparate, insufficient and as suitable for the scale of the problem as  trying to surf the Atlantic on a My Little Pony lilo.

This country is being robbed of the talents of some wonderful individuals simply because it does not invest in the services they need to stay well.

Even the most cruel and heartless government should surely recognise that the cost of not supporting these people is enormous to both our economy and our society.

I’m incredibly proud that Nick Clegg and Norman Lamb have done so much to improve mental health services and tackle the stigma around mental health. One of the most horrible things about the run-up to the 2015 election was the almost certain knowledge that Norman wouldn’t be mental health minister any more.

Today, Liberal Democrats have been marking Mental Health Day in a variety of ways:

Kirsty Williams made this video highlighting mental ill health in the workplace:

Alex Cole-Hamilton wrote this article:

There are few areas as an MSP where I hear stories so tragic. Young constituents who have spent significant proportions of their lives on child and adolescent mental health services waiting lists or who have been left without a bed when they need it most.

As an MSP and in my past role as Convener and Director of Together (Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights) I’ve seen the fantastic work done by charities and groups such as Place2Be, which delivers powerful early interventions on mental health in schools. Yet many critical organisations live a hand-to-mouth existence, desperately struggling to plug gaps left behind by inadequate government provision. This simply isn’t good enough.

The latest figures show one-in-five children and young people waiting more than 18 weeks for care. In my own health board, Lothian, the target was missed for more than 40%. And in Grampian it was absolutely shocking to see two-thirds of children waited longer than the Government standard.

To make matters worse, dozens of children are still waiting over a year for treatment.

Waits for adults to receive psychological therapies are at their worst on record.

In each of the cases where people aren’t receiving the right care in time, their mental health is at risk of worsening and taking an even greater toll on their lives.

And there are other areas of concern too. A BBC Scotland investigation found the number of under 18s given antidepressants has doubled since 2009/10. For some it will be the right treatment but these figures raise the question of whether these drugs are being used in the absence of mental health services such as talking therapies.

Of course, there have been some steps in the right direction. In her first speech to the Parliament following the election the First Minister acknowledged the Liberal Democrats’ role in pressing for a dedicated Minister for Mental Health, while the news that the national mental health strategy would span 10 years was greeted with broad approval from the sector.

Regrettably, the Scottish Government’s mental health strategy was 15 months overdue and, when it did finally arrive, charities, medical bodies and campaigners warned it lacked ambition and falls far short of the uplift in resources required to meet the needs of children and young people.

Similarly, the suicide prevention strategy expired in December 2016 and is yet to be replaced. We can’t afford for services in this area to be short when evidence shows that prevention strategies do work and with resources in place we can save lives.

The country needs a step change in our approach to mental health. That’s why Scottish Liberal Democrats are calling on the SNP to double CAMHS spending and create new specialist beds for children living north of Dundee. We would introduce a mental health practitioner in every GP surgery and A&E department in the country. A huge proportion of the police and prison staff’s work involves mental health so we need more trained staff alongside them too.

And others tweeted:

Let’s make sure that we are doing all we can to ensure that everyone who needs mental health care gets it. We will all be better off.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.

One Comment

  • I like Kirsty’s video but I wish the sound had been mixed so her voice was louder than the music rather than a bit lost under it.

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