Rodaidh McLaughlin: Still not enough help for mental illness

Suicide is the most common cause of death for men under 49
Suicide is the most common cause of death for men under 49
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In any given year, one in every four Scots will suffer from mental ill-health.

Reports of self-harm amongst young women are at an ­all-time high, suicide remains the number one cause of death amongst men under the age of 49, and a recent study by the ­University of Oxford has ­confirmed that serious mental illnesses reduce life expectancy by 10 to 20 years, a reduction unmatched even by the effects of heavy smoking.

However, this may be just the starting point from which the next generation of Scots ­prepares to battle a mental ­illness maelstrom.

Two factors stand out in the fight against mental ill-health: Firstly, social inequality is hugely significant in determining mental wellbeing, to the extent that those living in areas of high social deprivation in ­Scotland are both three times more likely to spend time in hospital due to mental illness, and three times more likely to commit ­suicide, than those from the least deprived areas.

Secondly, half of mental illnesses are established by the age of 14 and 75 per cent by the age of 24.

In March of this year, the ­Scottish Government published figures confirming that child poverty (after housing costs) rose to 26 per cent in Scotland up from just 22 per cent last year.

Two weeks earlier, the ­Institute for Fiscal Studies published ­figures predicting that UK-wide child poverty (after housing costs) will exceed 30 per cent by 2021.

Exposing greater numbers of people to poverty in their formative years will inevitably see a marked increase in Scots seeking help from their GP for mental illness, a 30 per cent increase from mid-2014 to mid-2016 in the case of Scottish children.

Moreover, children in ­Scotland are already receiving inadequate care, with the most recent figures revealing that more than one in six children seeking access to specialist mental health services are forced to wait beyond 18 weeks, despite the current government target being one in ten. Indeed, an increasing number of children are now waiting beyond 52 weeks for help – despite the NSPCC and others stressing the harm a delay in diagnosis can cause.

Worse still, it is not uncommon for those living in the most deprived areas to be offered the least help, a point emphasised by the Scottish Government’s own minister for mental health, Maureen Watt MSP, who described children’s access to services as akin to a ‘postcode lottery’.

Anyone who has suffered, or is close to someone who has suffered mental illness, knows just how all-consuming the burden can be.

Thankfully, it is now a widely-understood truth in Scottish society that, just as a broken arm cannot be willed back to health, it’s also the case for a broken mind. Goodwill alone will not protect this next generation of Scots in the battle against mental illness. Success will result only from action, action and still more action.

Rodaidh McLaughlin is a ­Politics & Scottish History ­graduate. He lives in Crossford.