Jo Anderson argues more than six months of Coronavirus has exposed the holes in Scotland's faltering mental health system just when it is Never More Needed
It’s been a year like no other. While the long-term effects of coronavirus on our mental health are not yet known, at SAMH we have been thinking a great deal about the areas that need urgent attention and investment.
For some time, well before the pandemic, Scotland’s mental health system had been struggling. Now in this new normal, demand has never been greater and access has fallen sharply. If change was needed before, radical change is needed now.
People who were already experiencing mental health problems have been hard hit by the pandemic. We’ve seen the withdrawal of many support services and real uncertainty around when support will resume. In a recent major survey, we found almost half of people felt they did not get care or treatment because of the pandemic and around the same percentage felt the quality of their treatment worsened.
At SAMH, I’m immensely proud to say that almost all our services have continued, despite the huge practical and emotional challenges involved – the third sector has been never more needed than it is right now. Understandably, we’ve seen an increased demand for our Information Service. Government funding has also allowed us to take part in the national expansion of the Distress Brief Intervention service across Scotland, enabling us to provide vital telephone support to people in distress.
Like many of you, we’ve had to adapt the way we support people this year but the extraordinary efforts of SAMH staff means that we’re still able to be there for people who need us.
The coronavirus pandemic has affected the ways in which we have all lived our lives and now more than ever people need the right support, so we welcome the publication of the Scottish Government’s Mental Health Transition and Recovery Plan, laying out the immediate priorities for the mental health system in Scotland. It’s good to see that this thinking is taking place, but we’re clear that simply restarting the old system won’t work: what we need is a genuinely new approach to mental health in Scotland.
We can’t rely exclusively on technology to provide the support needed. We welcome that the plan sets out an expansion to digital support, such as Computerised Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (cCBT), which could allow for broader access to support, but this doesn’t mean that everyone can access it. In a recent survey of SAMH service users, a quarter said they did not have access to or know how to use technology. Digital services can help many people – but they will not be the answer for everyone.
We need to move quickly if we are going to fix the problems in our faltering mental health system and face the issues that have been stored up by lockdown. Referrals to both children and young people’s mental health services and adult psychological services fell dramatically this year, at a time when we need greater access to mental health help than ever.
Our mental health system, already creaking before the pandemic, is now under even greater strain.
Creating a mental health system that is fit for purpose must be one of Scotland’s immediate priorities, because people need help now and we need a system that can provide that support.