Bruce Armstrong: Support is vital for young people in distress – it could prevent a tragedy

When one of our ­supporters, Laura Reid, won Charity Champion of the Year at the recent national awards ceremony hosted by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, we were rightly proud of her and of her achievement.

The Scottish Government-funded Distress Brief Intervention (DBI) programme, Aberdeen

However, none of us celebrated the result thinking only of the prize, as Laura had won the award for her tireless campaigning to raise mental health awareness following the tragic death of her son Calum to suicide two years ago.

In dedicating the award to her son, Laura received a standing ovation, demonstrating strength and courage that few parents could imagine being able to muster in the face of such overwhelming personal sadness.

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Calum’s death is a tragic reminder that young people in Scotland are experiencing ever higher levels of emotional problems, with government statistics recently showing that distress amongst teenage boys has risen by 8 per cent over the past 10 years, with the equivalent statistic of 16 per cent for teenage girls.

Bruce Armstrong, Support in Mind Scotland

The reasons are ­complex for ­every individual, but a recent survey by Mental Health UK indicated that ­bullying, fear for the future, relationship issues and social pressures were in the mix.

Whatever the causes, the important thing is to reverse the trend and reduce the number of young people reaching crisis and the Scottish ­Government is funding the extension of a national pilot to take young ­people’s distress into account.

Since 2017, Scotland has been leading the way with a unique and innovative approach to support for ­people in distress. The Scottish Government-funded Distress Brief Intervention (DBI) programme brings together multiple agencies including Police Scotland, Scottish Ambulance ­Service, primary care practices, NHS 24 and voluntary sector mental health organisations.

The DBI sees specially trained staff help individuals manage difficult emotions and problem situations early on and come up with a ­‘distress management plan’ to prevent future crisis. The project has helped more than 3,000 people since it launched two years ago in the four pilot areas, Aberdeen, Lanarkshire, the Borders, and Inverness.

DBI consists of two parts, with part one seeing trained front-line health, police, paramedic and primary care staff helping to ease immediate ­distress. They then ask the person if they would like further support and if the person agrees, they refer them to the DBI service with a promise of contact within the next 24 hours to start ­providing further face-to-face support.

Part two is provided by commissioned and trained third sector staff, like Support in Mind Scotland, who contact the person within 24 hours of referral and ­provide community-based problem-solving support, wellness and ­distress management planning, ­supported connections and signposting.

Those who have received DBI ­support show their level of distress has halved, report experiencing very high levels of compassion, and feel they are working towards their own goals.

Until recently the programme ­provided support to people aged 18 and older, but last year the ­Scottish Government announced plans for an extension of the pilot programme to include people aged 16 and 17.

DBI programme manager Kevin O’Neill said: “It’s fantastic news that the connected, compassionate ­support which DBI-trained staff provide to those in distress is being extended to 16 and 17-year-olds.

“While this innovative project is still in the pilot phase, the extension is ­testimony to the hard work and ­commitment of all the organisations providing support.”

The DBI programme emerged from the Scottish Government’s mental health and suicide prevention strategies and recognises that mental health support should be provided to people who do not have a diagnosis of mental illness but who are ­experiencing debilitating distress and emotional pain.

The extension of the programme to include younger people enhances its ability to provide early intervention and to help people avoid deterioration of their mental health through effective support.Support in Mind Scotland is one of six voluntary sector mental health support agencies that contribute to the programme and we welcome the extension to this vulnerable younger age group.

We all have a duty to look out for each other, and perhaps particularly for our young people who can find it difficult to reach out and ask for help.

Meantime, we honour Laura, and other parents who have suffered as she has, who bravely talk about their experience to help prevent other ­families from suffering as they have done.

For more information about the DBI pilot, please visit

Bruce Armstrong, Support in Mind Scotland.