Plans for men­tal health must be im­ple­mented

The Herald - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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