Long mental health waiting times tantamount to turning people away, says retiring Kirk Moderator

Lengthy waiting times for mental health treatment are tantamount to turning people away, the retiring Moderator of the Church of Scotland's General Assembly has said.

The Right Rev Dr Martin Fair welcomed evidence that politicians were taking the issue seriously but also called on the church and communities to play a part in supporting people with mental health problems.

Days away from ending his year of office, Dr Fair said: "I came into this year saying we must focus on poor mental health – that was a pandemic long before anybody ever heard of Covid and Scotland has poor record. That was my thought at the beginning of the year. Here we are at the end and it's no different. If anything the issues are harder now because people have been isolated, people have been stressed."

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In an interview webcast by the Kirk, he welcomed Nicola Sturgeon's appointment of a minister for mental wellbeing and social care.

Moderator-elect Lord Wallace (left) and retiring Moderator the Right Rev Dr Martin Fair greet each other outside the General Assembly Hall

"I'm delighted the Scottish Government has made clear it is going to invest and it's going to take this subject seriously.

"It is not good enough for someone to show up with serious mental health struggles and to be told there's an appointment that is months away or even longer, measured in terms of years. We can't go on with that. It's as well saying to somebody we can't help you whatsoever.

"But when we've got issues like this in our country let's not just sit back and say what is the government going to do about it? Let's say what are we going to do about it? Church, communities, all working together – that's how we'll begin to make a difference in supporting those who struggle with mental health."

Dr Fair said his period as Moderator had been "a year dominated by computer screens". His original plans to visit congregations and communities all around Scotland had to be ditched because of Covid. Instead he said he had had 1,000 zoom calls.

The Right Rev Dr Martin Fair was speaking ahead of handing over office on Saturday.

And he said ministers had been under stress "as never before in our lifetime" because Covid had forced them to "reinvent church" and he had decided to phone as many as he could to show his support and see how they were.

But he said he hoped the church would continue using zoom even once more normality was restored.

"We must retain our digital engagement. There are folk who are not going to walk through the doors of our churches anytime soon but they can easily, in a non-threatening way, catch something of what the church is about. So please, church, let's keep our online content and make it as good as we possibly can in tandem with what we do in person."

Dr Fair’s 12 months in the post will come to an end on Saturday when former Deputy First Minister, Liberal Democrat peer and Church of Scotland elder Lord (Jim) Wallace of Tankerness will be installed as the new Moderator at the opening session of the General Assembly, which is taking place mainly online.

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