A snapshot of mental health in Scotland: turning the attention towards prevention

9 November 2016

Policy volunteer Niamh Bergin shares her insights into the current state of mental health in Scotland

It is safe to say mental health has never experienced as much attention in Scotland as it has in recent months. After the recent elections The Scottish government made the significant decision to appoint it’s first dedicated Minister for Mental Health, Maureen Watt MSP.

Minister Watt has established that her focus will largely look at prevention and early intervention of mental ill health. She recently announced:

 “by addressing mental health problems as early as possible, we can prevent people from becoming more distressed, and improve access to services when needed by reducing pressure on the NHS”.

Scotland is also in the process of developing a new 10 year mental health strategy, expected to be published by the end of this year. This is an exciting opportunity to continue to improve the mental health and wellbeing across Scotland with an ambitious and powerful strategy founded on principles of equality and social inclusion. The Scottish government’s 10 year vision for mental health outlines eight priority areas for improvement, and we are encouraged to see the government underlining a commitment to human rights and the elimination of mental health stigma. 

However, many of the priorities focus overwhelmingly upon improving primary care and services. While a focus on services is necessary to a degree, this strategy must not lose ground on the progress made in Scotland to develop and implement preventative mental health programmes, a human rights framework, and integration strategies. 

In Scotland, as in the rest of the UK, the after-effects of the EU referendum are being felt. This decision has caused an increased anxiety about the future of Scotland, a fear of economic downturn and an increase in incidences of racism. There is strong evidence that recessions and racism are damaging to people's mental health so it’s important these negative consequences are on the Scottish government and UK governments radar in the coming months and years.

Having explored the far reaching impact that a public mental health approach can have on supporting mental wellbeing and preventing mental health problems through the work of the Mental Health Foundation, it seems clear that a change in direction is needed at a policy level.  It is vital that the government consider the effects the social determinants of mental health, such as unemployment, housing, and isolation, when developing and employing policies. By applying resources proportionately the government can ensure that individuals and communities most vulnerable to mental health problems are given every opportunity

Currently, the discourse in parliament related to mental health predominately centres on service provision. While it is important this is addressed, there is also a need to increase the profile of public mental health to politicians and policymakers, so that it becomes a part of Scottish policy and benefits the people of Scotland over the next ten years. It is an opportune time for the government to embrace this approach and incorporate it into its new mental health strategy.