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by Sandy Riddell, Mental Welfare Commission
29 March 2024
Associate Feature: Public health – a focus on those with severe mental health conditions

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Associate Feature: Public health – a focus on those with severe mental health conditions

How many organisations in Scotland are involved, directly or indirectly, in seeking to improve public health? 

The answer is not straightforward and that’s ok; large and small institutions, local communities and individuals can all play a role, depending on people’s needs at any given time.

But because no single organisation can (or should) do everything, those of us working in this area need to be clear on our priorities, remit and reach. Having that clarity is critical, particularly in the public sector, and it needs regular review as policies, expectations and perceptions change.

Mental ill health and mental wellbeing
In our own field, there has been a significant and positive change in the ways many people think about the very words ‘mental health’. It is much more readily spoken about than a decade or two ago. Anti stigma campaigns and greater awareness of conditions have allowed people and organisations to talk more honestly and openly, and to broaden their thinking into the wider issue of mental wellbeing for all.

We at the Mental Welfare Commission are supportive of these changes. It is good to see others involved in public health confirming their roles related to mental wellbeing.

Focus on the most vulnerable
Within that wider conversation, we also want to be clear about our own contribution. 

We focus on the most vulnerable, many of whom are so very unwell they cannot make decisions about their care, and instead are treated using the law – whether the Mental Health Act or the Adults with Incapacity Act.  

This includes people with mental illness, learning disabilities, dementia and related conditions. We seek to ensure they are treated fairly, have their rights respected and have the appropriate support to live the life of their choice.

Use of the law
Every day, our health and social work professionals offer expert advice on the complexities of those laws; how they can be used to provide care and treatment. They offer guidance to health and care professionals, to individuals who are unwell, and to concerned families. 

Visiting wards and services
Throughout the year our teams visit people in hospitals, in the community, and in prison mental health units across Scotland, and report on how well services are caring for individuals. 

Our teams know the wards and facilities and understand the pressures on services. In our published reports they highlight good practice and make calls for change where improvements are needed. They play a vital role in seeking to ensure that care is the best it can be.

The Commission’s other functions include its statutory duties to monitor the law, and to share information on how it is used to treat people in Scotland.

Updating the law
Following the Scottish Mental Health Law Review, we are also due to be involved in government-led work to develop a definition of mental disorder, and to reform adults with incapacity legislation. We will do all we can to support this work, and to ensure that the rights of those with severe and enduring mental health conditions are protected and prioritised.

Improving public health demands both clarity of understanding of any single organisation’s roles and responsibilities, and collaboration with others.  
At times like these - where demand is high and resources are tight - connecting with others, each using our expertise and experience, can have the greatest impact on the populations we serve.

This article is sponsored by Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland

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