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Associate Feature: A new strategy, a new opportunity to protect Scotland’s mental health

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Associate Feature: A new strategy, a new opportunity to protect Scotland’s mental health

In the context of a once in a generation cost-of-living crisis alongside the lingering effects of the Covid pandemic, Scotland’s mental health has perhaps never been as at risk as it is today.

Already in May of this year, in a UK representative poll carried out by the Money and Mental Health Institute, six in ten (59 per cent) UK adults said that the cost-of-living crisis has had a negative impact on their mental health, such as feeling anxious, depressed or hopeless.  

Mental health problems cost the Scottish economy £8.8 billion in 2019 even before the pandemic hit.  Much of these costs are preventable by investing in policies and programmes that address the root causes of poor mental health, particularly poverty. We cannot afford to sit on the side lines and watch the impending mental health crisis develop. 

As the Scottish Government prepares a new Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy, we have a fresh opportunity to protect our nation’s mental health and wellbeing in the context of these national challenges and to draft a truly whole-of-government strategy.  

Our mental health is shaped by our environments and experiences.  This includes things that we may have little control over such as job security, housing, how much money we have, and the facilities and services available to us in our communities. 

We need our governments and local authorities to take action to give people the best opportunity to thrive and live mentally healthy lives.   

For too long the approach to mental health in Scotland has been focused on mental health services and treatments. Of course, if people are experiencing poor mental health, they must have quick access to the right treatment. 

However, we cannot treat our way out of the mental health crisis. We are already seeing waiting lists of months and years for services that cannot meet the demand. We must do more to prevent mental health problems arising in the first place, support people to live well, and reduce the need for specialist mental health support and crisis care.   

Recently, I attended a meeting with the Diverse Experiences Advisory Panel, a newly established mental health advisory group to the Scottish Government that is hosted by the Mental Health Foundation. Its members, drawn from a range of communities and groups experiencing mental health inequity, discrimination and/or social exclusion, shared their views on what would most help their mental health.   

What they said was that many of the things most important to their mental health are outside of health service provision. Things like being able to make choices for one’s life, having liberty and feeling safe, having enough money and not having to worry about it, and having clean, well-lit living space.    

That’s why we’re urging Scottish Government to focus on prevention of poor mental health, empowering people to live well with additional support for people who are at increased risk. We have included recommendations across all policy areas from education and employment to justice and transport in our strategy submission.   

In 2017, the Scottish Government outlined its vision for an economy which prioritises the wellbeing of current and future generations. If the Government is serious about achieving this vision, they need to demonstrate that commitment in visible action by establishing a Mental Health in All Policies Forum with representation and accountability for every government department, to share best practice and track progress towards the vision. 

We all know that the coming weeks, months, and years are going to hit people’s finances hard, leading to increased mental distress. The entire Scottish Government must do all it can to alleviate the harmful mental health impact of soaring inflation and prevent a catastrophic mental health crisis.

There’s no better time for a whole-of-government Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy for Scotland. 

Dr Shari McDaid is head of Evidence and Impact and the Mental Health Foundation (Scotland) 

This article was sponsored by the Mental Health Foundation

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