Holyrood cannot achieve a sea of change in mental health alone

On 23rd June the Mental Health Foundation attended the first ever Bi-Annual Forum established by the new Mental Health Strategy. The Forum brings together people from across the third sector, local government and organisations with a keen interest in mental health to monitor the progress of the strategy over its ten-year lifespan and contribute towards its success.

Mental Health Strategy

In essence it allows government to build a stronger, more collaborative relationship with those invested in mental health, such as charities and service providers as well as ensuring greater accountability and scrutiny in the strategy’s implementation. The last strategy was never fully evaluated nor was it open to the same level of external scrutiny and participation, so what we have seen so far is a welcome step forward.

The Scottish Mental Health Partnership, of which the Foundation is a member, campaigned strongly for an ambitious, visionary, long-term plan for mental health ahead of the Holyrood elections.

Our recent report, Surviving or Thriving, has found alarming statistics about the state of mental health across the country. 65% of survey respondents said that they have experienced a mental health problem, while only 13% said they are living with high levels of positive mental health. Surely the measure of success of any nation is the health and wellbeing of its people?

13% Good Mental Health

That’s why we wanted to see prevention and early intervention at the heart of the new strategy. We wanted greater focus on tackling inequalities and poverty, given that, for example, half of GP appointments in Scotland’s most deprived communities have a mental health component. And we wanted a strategy that transcended government departments with a joined up approach that looked at mental health and wellbeing in a holistic way.

So does the ten year plan achieve any of this? The strategy was greeted with mixed responses. Some organisations criticised a lack of overall investment while others welcomed action to deal with the challenges in children’s mental health – in particular the rolling out of mental health training for those who work in education settings.

The document may indeed fall short of some people’s expectations, but the key point is this: the strategy is not, and should not be, a static framework with a list of pre-set government objectives. It is a ten year plan which should organically evolve as progress is achieved and new challenges emerge. And crucially, the Forum’s participants should have the power to shape, mould and steer it over the next ten years and contribute towards its success. In other words – it’s what we make it.

The government recognises that it “can’t achieve a sea of change in mental health alone”. Real co-ownership and working in partnership, including with service users and people with lived experience, will be crucial for the strategy’s success.

The Foundation particularly welcomes the public health dimension of the strategy, which has a strong focus on improving the physical wellbeing of people with mental health problems, tackling premature mortality; and the acknowledgement that poverty is the single biggest driver of poor mental health. Measures to help people with mental health problems into suitable work through the Scottish Government’s new employment powers are also welcome.

By prioritising mental health right across central and local government we can contribute to achieving our national outcomes of building a safer, smarter, healthier, more engaged and more resilient Scotland. Because make no mistake – our mental and emotional wellbeing as individuals and communities has a direct impact on our NHS, our schools, our justice system, our welfare system and our economic output.

So where do we go from here? The Foundation made a number of recommendations to the Scottish Government on taking the Forum forward, including:
  • The establishment of progress reports. These should be available in advance of bi-annual meetings to prevent Forums turning into one-sided monologues. Instead, the Government should use the expertise in the Forum to overcome key challenges.

  • The creation of thematic working groups which meet between bi-annual meetings and work directly with Scottish Government officials on the implementation of actions.

  • The involvement of people with lived experience and service users – because their contribution is invaluable, particularly if a human rights based approach is to run through this. The Government could replicate the Social Security consultation’s ‘Experience Panel’ model.

We must be unapologetic about our ambition. The strategy must transform the way people think about mental health over the next ten years. We want a Scotland that looks after its mental wellbeing in the same way people take steps to look after their physical health. The Mental Health Foundation looks forward to playing its full part in the development of the strategy over the months and years ahead, and work towards a thriving, more mentally healthy Scotland.