Associate feature: Good mental health is key to the recovery from COVID-19
A new Scottish Parliament brings with it a sense of new beginnings and optimism for the future.
For weeks we have heard all of Scotland’s political parties committing to recovery, growth and prosperity with all giving assurances that good mental health is integral to the post-pandemic response.
Now it’s time to put those promises into meaningful action.
Good mental health must be key to public policy decisions right across government.
Our research into the mental health effects of the pandemic has shown that many people struggled with distressing emotions.
Importantly, those who were most likely to experience distress were, for the most part, the same groups that were at risk prior to the pandemic.
Recovery from COVID-19 must, therefore, include a well-developed and implemented mental health strategy, with the equivalent effort as given to the economy, industry, education and physical health.
In fact, we would suggest that the mental health of the nation be the bellwether for our recovery.
With mental health inextricably linked to prosperity in all other areas of society and life, what better indicator than mental wellbeing to provide a true reflection of the state of our nation?
Over the past year there has been a longing for a return to ‘normality’ but we have an opportunity to build something better.
We can’t go back to the way things were – even before the pandemic, our mental health services were stretched far beyond their capacity.
Of course, people should always be given access to appropriate and timely support when they need it, but if we invest in preventative measures, we can both alleviate pressure on services and support people to live well.
That’s why we need to lay the foundations for a wellbeing society where everyone is empowered to live mentally healthy lives.
A wellbeing society where we really tackle the root causes of poor mental health including poverty and inequality.
We must strengthen our social safety nets, nurture environments that empower people to thrive, and invest in preventative support that will safeguard us now and our future generations.
This means that every person in Scotland has adequate income to provide a safe, warm home and healthy food, free and equal access to education and healthcare, job security, community and quality outdoor spaces.
To that end, we call on the Scottish Government to publish its first wellbeing budget within the next two years with radical measures to reduce poverty, including a trial of universal basic income, and use the powers it has to prevent a COVID-19 unemployment crisis.
A future of work commission should be established to ensure that our workplaces support mental wellbeing, as well as to investigate the advantages of a four-day work week and measures to reduce job insecurity.
Children and young people must benefit from mental health education that is embedded within the Curriculum for Excellence and gives every pupil the tools to protect and improve their mental health and tackle stigma.
A mental health guarantee should allow everyone who reaches out to their GP for help for mild to moderate mental health problems referred to community support within six weeks.
This is just the tip of the iceberg that represents the political and cultural shift Scotland needs to secure good mental health for all.
It is an ambitious programme for a government to achieve but if the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we cannot afford to face the coming challenges without a mentally healthy nation.
The Mental Health Foundation Scotland will work tirelessly with MSPs from across the political spectrum to deliver progress and achieve our vision of a mentally flourishing Scotland.
Lee Knifton is director of the Mental Health Foundation in Scotland and Northern Ireland
This article was sponsored by the Mental Health Foundation