Time for change in mental heath care

It needs to be accepted that like physical ill-health ' mental health problems are normal. Picture: Igor Stevanovic

It needs to be accepted that like physical ill-health ' mental health problems are normal. Picture: Igor Stevanovic

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It has been an encouraging start to 2016 but there is more to be done, writes Calum Murray

For those of us working to support people dealing with mental health problems, it has been an encouraging start to 2016.

CrossReach – the Church of Scotland’s social care charity – has been providing mental health services for more than 25 years, emphasising the reality of recovery and recognising that, with the right support, mental health need not be a barrier to people achieving their goals.

It has been gratifying to see policymakers in local and national government recognising the importance of support in this area, and even better to see them recognising that it is an area worth investing in. Indeed, the Prime Minister has promised a “revolution” in mental health services. The UK government’s pledge to direct nearly £1billion towards mental health support marks significant progress, and reverses a trend which saw funding for mental health services reduce between 2010 and 2015. The Scottish Government is also giving greater priority to mental health through its Primary Care Development Fund, which CrossReach welcomes given that 1 in 3 GP appointments relates to a mental health concern.

On top of this, we look forward to seeing the benefits of health and social care integration in Scotland, which promises to end the frustration of people missing out on the support they need because the funding for it is in someone else’s budget. We also hope that ‘social prescribing’ – in other words, GPs directing people to social care and community activities - will become a reality due to its positive impact on mental health.

Most encouraging of all, however, has been the willingness of people across the country to speak up about their experiences of mental health issues. For too many years mental health has carried a stigma which has made people feel like they need to hide what they are going through from colleagues, family – and even from themselves. This is destructive for many reasons, but perhaps most significantly because it prevents people from seeking the support that would help them to recover.

This stigma is now being challenged. People from all walks of life are telling their stories of experiencing mental health problems, and of recovering from them. I was inspired to read Rev David McNeish, a Church of Scotland minister in Orkney, discussing his own experiences of mental health in this newspaper a few weeks ago. He adds his voice to the many people connected to CrossReach’s work that I have met over the years, whose stories of lives transformed have given us the courage to push on in the face of stigma as well as the discouragement of being left behind by public policy. I have several friends in CrossReach who, after benefitting from the support of our services, have decided to train, study and join our team in order to support other people as they recover from mental health problems. Working alongside these colleagues is a constant reminder of the value of mental health support services, and of the positive impact social care has for the whole community. Hearing other people’s stories is powerful. Learning that someone has come through an experience similar to yours proves that recovery is possible. It is the bravery of all of these people which has been the most encouraging part of this story.

But, here is the problem: it still requires bravery to speak up. Although people’s understanding of mental health has greatly improved, admitting to having experienced a problem with mental health still carries the risk of being treated differently. This has to change. In Scotland, 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health issue during 2016. We must come to recognise that – like physical ill-health – mental health problems are normal.

This is important: achieving this change in our culture will liberate 1.3 million of our fellow citizens. Our hope is that additional funding will mean that quality support is made available across the country because access to the right support is vital to promoting recovery as well as improving understanding of mental health.

As a society, let’s make 2016 the year of a true social revolution – let’s make it the year that mental health becomes normal.

• Calum Murray is Director of Adult Care Services at CrossReach (www.crossreach.org.uk)

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