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Mental Health Foundation volunteer Shirley Hellyar spoke to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon about mental health discrimination and what can be done to reduce the stigma around mental ill-health.
Why do you think it is important to have a festival like Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival?
"Personal stories of recovery can inform and inspire people with experience of mental health problems, carers and service providers alike. Learning about other people’s experiences can also help to challenge misconceptions. Stories offer hints and techniques on recovery and recognise the fact that people in recovery are experts by experience, stating very clearly that people can and do recover from even the most serious mental health problems. Recovery means being able to live a good life, as defined by the person, with or without symptoms. Any event which brings people together to discuss and promote mental health and understanding is to be welcomed and festivals such as these provide a way into opening these discussions."
Why do you think it is important to have discussions around discrimination? And how can Scotland move forward to be more inclusive, and challenge mental health discrimination?
"Health includes mental health and it is important to recognise the rights of people with mental health problems, and how these are threaded through every aspect of life. The distribution of mental health problems across the population varies considerably according to age and social circumstances. Although effective treatment exists for most conditions, with recovery rates that are comparable to those for many physical diseases, lack of awareness and stigma affects the likelihood of somebody seeking and receiving treatment."
What policy, have you introduced in your time as First Minster to tackle discrimination, and why do you think this is important in a Scottish inclusive society?
"Scotland should be proud of its commitment to improving mental health. Its visibility and awareness has risen substantially during the last decade. There is better public awareness of mental illness and the sources of help. Building on this progress, in March of this year we launched our new 10 year Strategy to transform mental health services in Scotland. The new Strategy reflects our vision of a Scotland where well-being flourishes. Where a focus on equality, prevention, support, human rights and recovery means good mental health for all. Where people can get the right help at the right time, expect recovery and fully enjoy their rights, free from discrimination and stigma."
Do you think more needs to be done on a national level to help and support people with mental health difficulties? If so what would you implement?
"Treating people once they become ill is only part of the story. We want to support people to stay well which is why our Strategy will focus on shifting the balance of care towards prevention and early intervention, particularly for children and young people. Shifting the balance of care towards primary and community care is a major priority within the new Mental Health Strategy.
"The poor life expectancy of people with lifelong mental illness is unacceptable. I expect this this to change. We have included in the new Mental Health Strategy a focus on how we can improve the physical healthcare of people with mental health problems. There are things we can measure over a relatively short timescale that should contribute to a longer-term improvement in health and life expectancy. For example, improving access to screening, a focus on smoking cessation and supporting people to manage their weight and take part in physical activity."
Do you think it is important to connect with your local community, and do you think that promotes positive mental health and well-being?
"Yes, and we have positive examples of initiatives in Scotland that look to bring people together to discuss and promote mental health. For example the 'Walk a Mile' initiative brings people together, including together professionals, carers and people with lived experience, to speak about mental health and 'walk a mile in each other’s shoes', addressing stigma and promoting understanding conversation by conversation."
If someone is experiencing mental distress what advice would you give to them?
"Mental health distress is something that affects everyone and is just like physical health distress in that a range of responses is needed to best fit the problem. The Scottish Government is committed to improving how services respond to people in distress so that they get the best support no matter where or when they seek help or how they come into contact with services.
"Distress can be entirely normal and self-limiting requiring no external support beyond good coping strategies, like exercise and talking to family and friends. However, if it persists you can access online information through NHS 24 and its NHS inform website. Breathing Space offers free and confidential advice for people experiencing low mood, depression or anxiety, whatever the cause. They can be contacted on 0800 83 85 87, or you can also access www.breathingspace.scot which provides a wide range of useful information and advice about coping with low mood, depression and anxiety.
"If distress persists and may be symptomatic of mental disorder the person can use their local primary care service who in turn can refer to specialist mental health services if appropriate. In emergencies NHS 24 111 telephone service can be used and Samaritans provides a confidential telephone service for people feeling suicidal you can contact Samaritans free on 116 123.
"Responding to distress was part of the work of the last suicide prevention strategy, this work will continue in a new suicide prevention action plan that the Scottish Government is creating following engagement events. The Scottish Government is also funding a distress brief intervention service in four pilot sites across Scotland."
This was part of a larger interview with the First Minister. You can read more about the interview on the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival's website:
If you are feeling like ending your life or feel unable to keep yourself safe, please call 999 or go to A&E and ask for the contact of the nearest crisis resolution team. These are teams of mental health care professionals who work with people in severe distress. If you feel affected by the content you have read, please see our get help page for support.