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by Jacqueline Cameron
24 May 2021
Associate Feature: Mental health needs of people using alcohol and drugs

Associate Feature: Mental health needs of people using alcohol and drugs

When the pandemic first started, the Renfrewshire Alcohol and Drugs Commission had already heard people with lived and living experience of alcohol and drugs talk about the isolation they felt within their community and how difficult it was to get mental health support.

Both of these unmet needs only got worse during the pandemic, which is why we extended the Commission until autumn 2020 so that we could see how people’s needs deepened or changed.

Our ambition was to look at things differently and consider the human impact of alcohol and drugs by listening to people with lived or living experience, front-line workers and national experts instead of solely focusing on data. The pandemic gave a unique new context to the work of our Commission.

We also wanted to see our recommendations embedded into the day-to-day work of all public and third sector partners, similar to how the recommendations of the Renfrewshire Tackling Poverty Commission (2015) are now embedded into council’s way of working.

What came through very clearly is that people use alcohol and drugs for complex reasons and there is no easy fix.

It will take a collective approach with our partners in health, third sector and the community to do something really different that better supports people using alcohol and drugs.

It will also take money, which is why Renfrewshire Council has allocated an initial £2million in funding to support projects that meet the 27 recommendations of the Commission, including increasing specialist mental health support for children and young people, and wrapping services around people through existing services and outreach, community and peer support.

A lot of these recommendations will build upon existing services or look at new ways of providing that service to meet people’s needs.

Most of our public services have already adapted and found new and emerging ways of supporting people due to the pandemic.

The pandemic has clearly shown us that people urgently need mental health services. We know there is a lot of help out there, however, people just don’t know how to access it, or they fall through the gaps.

It’s true that as a nation we need to improve the mental health services we offer. Specifically, there needs to be less of a gap between self-help resources and highly specialised professional services tailored for specific mental health issues, especially for young people.

Unfortunately, we will now see people coping with trauma all around us due to the pandemic, but it was a growing issue before that too.

That’s why trauma needs to be considered as a part of everything that we as a council and our partners do.

People who are impacted by alcohol and drugs often use them to suppress trauma they have experienced, and this can happen at any stage in life.

Using alcohol and drugs can also cause trauma in itself – with people victimised, abused, exploited or losing their family as a result.

Focusing on trauma and developing a whole system approach is important to not only reduce and prevent problems, but also support people through recovery.

However, stigma will remain a barrier to people accessing services unless we work hard to address it, which also means considering which buildings our services are provided in, the language we use when we talk about issues and recognising that anyone can be affected.

Ultimately, if we want people to develop meaningful relationships with recovery organisations and build strong peer support models within the community, we need to continue to listen to and value the lived and living experience of people who have been impacted by alcohol and drugs.

Councillor Jacqueline Cameron is convener for Renfrewshire Health and Social Care Integration Joint Board. This article was sponsored by Renfrewshire Council.

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