Until recently taboo, mental illness is now the subject of political debate in both the UK and Scottish parliaments.
Politicians and other public figures have spoken about their own mental health struggles, making it easier for others to do likewise. And important public health campaigns have continue to encourage more people to speak out when they need help while also ensuring wider understanding of this “hidden” illness.
But helping people to feel confident enough to talk about mental illness is not, by itself, a solution. We must also ensure that the NHS is fully prepared to deal with those patients who have taken often difficult first step of reaching out for help.
Despite far greater awareness of mental illness - which can affect as many as one in four of us - and an increased willingness of sufferers to seek help, the number of psychiatrists employed by the NHS in
Scotland has risen by just four in the past five years.
A shortage of qualified staff able to deal with mental health issues is a long recognised problem. This being so, there is no excuse for the current staffing shortage,
It would be a national scandal if patients needing emergency treatment for physical ailments were unable to access help. It should be no less scandalous when those in need of treatment for mental health problems are unable easily to get it.
Dr John Crichton, chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland, is quite correct when he says that people with a severe mental illness should be able to see a specialist, just as some would for a severe physical illness. We’re afraid he is also quite correct when he points out that current reality is falling short of expectations.
We understand that ensuring the NHS has all the experts it requires is not easy. All the more reason, then, for ministers to redouble their efforts. Not only do we need to ensure that the number of students training to enter this particular field matches up to demand, we also need to ensure the health service is able to retain those who do come on board.
Mental illness can be every bit as debilitating as physical injury. We’ve long past the time when Scotland’s NHS should have been prepared to meet the demands of patients and their families.