The uniqueness of the forum is that it gets organisations around the table that would never normally meet. Mental health organisations, NHS departments, government officials and, importantly, rural membership organisations, such as the Women’s Institute, RSPB, National Farmers’ Union, crofters, churches and more.
The starting point was a report by Scotland’s Rural College and Support in Mind Scotland that gave insights into living with mental ill health in rural Scotland.
The key finding is that people want to connect, in low-level, non-clinical ways, before crisis. This forms the basis of the forum’s work – connecting organisations who are connecting with people – across rural Scotland.
Member organisations have been raising awareness of mental ill health, launching their campaign at the Royal Highland Show last June. Each member reaches out through its own networks, and ideas are shared each time the forum meets.
Speakers have talked about mental health first aid training, support available through NHS24, and support for adults who have survived adverse childhood experiences. The members update on actions, and share ways forward, building knowledge and confidence in supporting those experiencing mental ill health.
The forum works directly with Scottish Government departments including Rural, Mental Health and Social Security, ensuring that their perspectives are considered in decision-making. Rural mental health is prominent in the Scottish Government’s ten-year Mental Health Strategy, the Loneliness and Isolation Strategy consultation document, and is also mentioned in the Government’s draft budget document.
Fergus Ewing MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity, said: “I am delighted with the progress made by the National Rural Mental Health Forum which encourages greater collaboration between rural organisations and health partners to focus attention on mental health support and initiatives across rural Scotland.
“Helping rural communities thrive and ensuring isolated people receive support when and where they need it, is a priority for this government. I am very pleased that Scottish Government support has enabled the forum to make a real difference.”
The forum and Support in Mind Scotland are now looking at innovative ways of delivering services in rural south-west Scotland, West Lothian, the Western Isles and Argyll & Bute, with hard-to-reach communities experiencing multiple disadvantages.
This Well Connected Communities project is researching what makes communities supportive and is creating place-based maps of partnerships which will be tested within communities.
Nationally, these lessons will feed into the Government’s Mental Health Strategy, their Suicide Action Plan and Loneliness and Isolation Strategy.
Internationally, the forum presented its innovative collaborative working approach to the four UK jurisdictions’ Through a Rural Lens: A UK Rural Development and Networking Conference in Belfast. Their work is gaining interest from other parts of the world, due to the partnership-working that is taking place.
Maureen Watt MSP, Minister for Mental Health, has also reiterated her support.
She said: “There are many positive things about living in a rural area, including a strong sense of community. Some people, however, can find some aspects of rural life difficult, often working long hours in remote locations, sometimes largely on their own and could benefit from extra support.
“Working with members of the National Rural Mental Health Forum, including NHS 24’s Breathing Space, Samaritans, NFU Scotland and agriculture charity RSABI, our festive campaign Don’t Wrap Up This Christmas put the spotlight on mental health in rural Scotland and where to seek help.
“Mental health problems are treatable, and many are preventable. People can – and do – recover. Outstanding work is done every day, but to deliver the mental health services the people of Scotland deserve, we must all work together.”
The focus of the National Rural Mental Health Forum will raise awareness, reduce stigma, reduce isolation, and increase mental wellbeing. If that work collectively saves one life, then all effort will have been worthwhile. For more information, see www.ruralwellbeing.org.
Jim Hume, convener, National Rural Mental Health Forum.