Let’s change the ‘doctor knows best’ mindset when dealing with mental health - Christine Muir

I love my job. As Communications Officer at the Scottish Recovery Network I get to collaborate with amazing initiatives supporting the mental health recovery of people across the country. It’s inspiring.

Christine Muir, senior communications officer, Scottish Recovery Network
Christine Muir, senior communications officer, Scottish Recovery Network

But there’s a problem. As someone who has mental health challenges I still find it hard to access the support I need. I know from our engagement work that way too many people are in the same situation.

We are halfway through the Scottish Government’s 10-year Mental Health Strategy (2017-2027) and a much-needed refresh is under way. This refresh is a great opportunity to really listen to people. To design services and support based on what people with lived experience tell us they need.

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Let’s be honest, our current mental health system isn’t working. Although this has been exacerbated by the pandemic and even more so by cost-of-living challenges it hasn’t been working for a long time. At a local and national level there are mental health strategies in place, dedicated people working hard and pockets of innovation but why does it feel like very little changes when trying to access support?

As a society I think we are all guilty of having a ‘doctor knows best’ mindset – I know I am. Perhaps it’s time for us to stop taking it as a given that mental health support should always be through clinical NHS services? That there is only one route to support – GP referral. Now don’t get me wrong, I have had absolutely fantastic help from NHS psychological services but that’s not the case for everyone. I have also experienced the barriers to support that come with these services. The reality for many people is isolation in times of crisis and frustration as they are put on a long waiting list without signposting to other help. When eventually they get to see someone most people receive a limited period of support but are often left without support once again when discharged.

One of the reasons is of course an over-burdened NHS and lack of resource but is more of the same what we really need? Of course we say yes to recovery focused NHS mental health services and specialist help but we also need to see support as a much wider picture. For example we have a third sector bursting with quality support and innovation but without ongoing and long-term investment it’s not sustainable. Let’s work together, cross sector and provide a joined-up approach to support, easing the burden on the NHS, providing more choice and access to help and benefiting the mental health and wellbeing of us all.

We are not starting from scratch and it is encouraging to see things like peer support, recovery focused community-based initiatives and social prescribing getting recognition but we have a long way to go.

The next five years could be a real start for the transformation of how we think about and access mental health support in Scotland and before we know it we could have a fit for purpose system that meets everyone’s needs.

Christine Muir, senior communications officer, Scottish Recovery Network

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