Plans for mental health must be implemented
IT’S the measure of any caring society that the health, wellbeing and education of our children rank among its priorities. Earlier this year the Scottish Government launched a new mental health strategy, which stated that prevention and early intervention are key to minimising the prevalence and incidence of poor mental health.
In its strategy guidelines it made clear that in order to minimise the severity and lifetime impact of mental disorder and illness, funding must focus on getting to grips with these conditions at the earliest possible stage.
Given this declaration and promise, it’s understandable Scotland’s leading mental health body now feels compelled to criticise a lack of priority for mental health in the Scottish Government’s latest draft budget.
According to the Scottish Association of Mental Health (SAMH), the budget for mental health services would be more than three times as big if it matched levels spent in England.
This, of course, is not the first time concern about the provision for mental health in Scotland has been raised. Just a few months ago new data, obtained in a BBC investigation, revealed more than 250,000 children in Scotland have no access to school-based counselling services.
The data showed school counsellors dealt with thousands of cases including substance abuse, self-harm and depression in the past year. It also found 14 local authorities had no on-site counsellors and provision by other councils was irregular. Much of this has been exacerbated by cuts made through local authority Integration Joint boards or IJB’s.
On-site services were present in only 40 per cent of Scottish secondary schools, or 10 per cent of all primary and secondary schools.
Again this is a far cry from conditions elsewhere. Unlike Scotland, counselling services were guaranteed in all secondary schools in Northern Ireland and Wales almost a decade ago.
That the demand for services is increasing is undeniable. In Glasgow alone in the last year, counselling services were accessed 797 times. As Chris Creegan, chairman of SAMH, has said, the Scottish Government’s intentions outlined in its ten-year strategy guidelines are welcome.
This strategic intent and having a dedicated Minister for Mental Health in Maureen Watt MSP means Scotland should be well placed to deliver. We are also well endowed in terms of the expertise to meet the demands for mental health provision.
Where the shortcomings lie, however, insists Mr Creegan, are in implementation and, of course, funding shortfalls. Calling for spending on child and adolescent mental health services to be more than doubled from £55.6 million to £152m, SAMH warns three children in every school classroom will suffer mental health problems before they are 16.
While Scottish Government strategy may be on the right path, a much more rapid implementation of its key points, along with the necessary cash input, is vital.