Nicola Sturgeon: Mental health essential to our well-being

It is estimated that only one in three people who would benefit from treatment for a mental illness currently receive it. Photograph: Getty
It is estimated that only one in three people who would benefit from treatment for a mental illness currently receive it. Photograph: Getty
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Mental Health Awareness week, which begins tomorrow, has been run by the Mental Health Foundation for the past 17 years. Each year, the Foundation chooses a theme which encourages us to think about our mental health, and ensure we’re giving it the same consideration we give our physical health.

In 2017, it asks the simple question – are we surviving or thriving? This is a strong statement that reminds us that the term “mental health” doesn’t just apply to those who have a diagnosis, or who have experience of mental health problems. It helps us to focus on what we can do collectively to enjoy a life with good mental health.

We’ve long recognised that government has a significant part to play in this, and we’re committed to treating mental health with the same importance as physical health. Taboos and stigmas associated with mental health are being stripped away. The necessity of people speaking up and speaking out was recently typified by my friend and colleague James Dornan MSP, who wrote passionately about his challenges with depression. By talking about his own experience I hope his action encourages many more to do the same.

At the moment, it is estimated only one in three people who would benefit from treatment for a mental illness currently receive it. People with lifelong mental illness are likely to die 15 to 20 years prematurely because of poor physical health. Those with a mental health problem are more likely than others to wait longer than four hours in an emergency department.

This is tragic. And it’s unacceptable. But it’s not insurmountable. In March this year, we launched our ten-year Mental Health Strategy. It has a simple ambition, but one that will cause a fundamental shift in our services, as well as change and save lives – that we must prevent and treat mental health problems with the same commitment, passion and drive as we do physical health problems.

The strategy encompasses 40 actions, and we have lost no time in getting many of these under way. Prevention and early intervention are a central part of our approach, but we recognise that improving access to services is important too. The strategy contains, among other things, specific steps to improve the delivery of child and adolescent mental health services.

We’re increasing the mental health workforce in A&Es, GP practices, police station custody suites and prisons – supported by increasing investment in 800 additional staff in these key sites to £5 million over the next five years. We will very soon be commissioning a review of counselling and guidance services in schools to ensure they’re meeting the needs of children and young people, while improving support for preventative and less intensive child and adolescent mental health services to tackle issues earlier.

We’re funding a Managed Clinical Network to improve the recognition and treatment of mental health problems for mothers and their children. We’re providing funding to help ensure that clinical best practice is used throughout the country for people who experience psychosis for the first time.

This is the first national health strategy since the integration of health and social care, and presents opportunities for local areas to develop their own approaches and to innovate and work across boundaries to meet the needs of their local populations. The actions in the strategy will support this local delivery, remove barriers to change, and make sure change happens.

Improving mental healthcare is not just down to the NHS or other healthcare providers. We’re working across all relevant areas of the Scottish Government, and across wider public services, to improve our population’s mental health – this includes education, the justice system, employment, social security, as well as the eradication of poverty.

Mental healthcare should be person-centred, and realise the life-changing benefits of fast, effective treatment. People should only have to ask once to get help fast.

Our vision is of a Scotland where people can get the right help at the right time, expect recovery, and fully enjoy their rights, free from discrimination and stigma. Through this strategy and through campaigns like Mental Health Awareness Week, we want to ensure that this is more than just a worthy ambition and can be made real.