Politicians don’t have magic wands, but they do have the power to choose what they fix - Christine Jardine

There is always immediate need.

Mental health issues in particular have taken on a new and much more widespread significance
Mental health issues in particular have taken on a new and much more widespread significance

I saw it before I was elected and I feel it more acutely now.

Children who face the enormous cruelty of spending their early years fighting a potentially life-ending illness.

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People for whom doorways have become their bedrooms, having to choose between keeping warm or staying fed.

Those working in health services and education stretched to breaking point by the demands of delivering in underfunded situations.

And then there’s mental health.

For years we have treated it as something which is separate to the process of living.

As if it’s a sort of one off.

While we rightly put those other issues at the heart of our concerns we have too long seemed to treat mental health as a diversion from the general approach to care.

Something which somehow is confined in its own wee bubble with a separate population to consider.

I hope you find that as offensive as I do.

This week we set off on another election trail with parties and candidates jousting for places in the next Holyrood parliament.

The manifestos are, as always, full of blue sky thinking from different ideologies doing their own equation for what they think will change, if not the world, then certainly Scotland.

But this time, perhaps more than ever before, we are looking for something which will address those immediate needs which with the pandemic have become even more urgent.

Mental health issues in particular have taken on a new and much more widespread significance.

We have all felt the emotional strain of a year of separation from loved ones, confinement to home and fear for our health.

For many that will have exacerbated existing mental health issues and left them turning for support to a service that is already stretched.

The figures were already unacceptable before the pandemic absorbed so much of the available resources and denied so many other treatments the time, space and funding they need.

In pre-pandemic 2019 not a single Scottish health board achieved the 18-week post referral target for patients to have a meeting with psychologists.

In the past year four thousand children had to wait even longer than that for access to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

That is a significant increase driven by a lack of both beds and professionals, while an estimated twenty-five thousand calls to the crisis helpline went unanswered.

Politicians don’t have magic wands.

But they do have the power to choose what they fix.

Yes I know there are competing demands for resources. And I appreciate that the burden on our NHS at the moment is beyond anything any of us could have anticipated.

But surely we have to recognise that we will only make significant inroads in this, or any problem, if we both focus on it in the short term, and change our long term strategy?

There are immediate steps which we can take, my party the Liberal Democrats, for example want to see a massive increase in funding.

We want to train more health professionals and co-locate them with GPs, at Accident and Emergency and in prisons.

And long term we want to see a change in the law to put mental health on the same statutory footing as physical health care.

But for me there is also a bigger, much more far reaching and ultimately, I believe, more successful approach that we need to take as a country.

Recently I was able to spend time hearing about the work done by the Carnegie Trust (a completely a-political body) on creating a well-being economy.

The trust was set up as an independent foundation to improve the wellbeing of the people of the United Kingdom and Ireland.

The work they have done sets out how we can put societal wellbeing at the centre of public policy.

And although they may not be connected to, or aligned with, any political movement each of our parties would do well to listen to what they have to say, and when they have the opportunity, put it into practice.

The idea of wellbeing as an economic driver is, frustratingly, not a new one.

It is more than 40 years since Robert Kennedy spoke of the failure of that purely economic guide, Gross Domestic Product as a measure of social progress.

It is three decades since the UN published its first Human Development Index and ten years since the UK launched the Measuring National Wellbeing programme.

Good mental health and supportive services are central to any measure of national wellbeing.

And yet we are still getting it wrong.

If you have taken what I have written as impatient with the current government’s approach you would be correct.

I have tried, with others, to focus on pursuing what was best for those in most immediate need in our country.

Meanwhile those with the opportunity to affect positive change argued about the constitution.

Another two, five or tens years debating political relationships on these islands will not help those with nowhere to live to find a bed for tonight.

Neither will it lessen the anguish of families having to care for a child with a life threatening illness or loved one who treatment was delayed by the demands placed on our health service by Covid-19.

Nor will it help those struggling to live each day with a mental health issue that has waited too long for treatment.

If we want to address those issues we have to focus on rebuilding an economy which will finance the services they need and provide the support they are missing.

That must be both our long-term aim and our immediate priority: Recovery.