A Piece o’ Ma Mind: Mental Health in Scotland
As mental health becomes a campaign issue, we look at the state of the issue in Scotland
I am one of roughly 15% of the population who reports symptoms of a mental health disorder. Diagnosed with a high-functioning anxiety disorder in 2016, the medication I take every morning, citalopram, reduces the effect of the disorder on my general health and behaviour.
Like many others battling this disorder, I’ve discovered it’s helpful to supplement medication with additional support. The NHS has online resources, which many find helpful, while others attend counselling. Some make lifestyle choices, such as adopting exercise into their daily routine – indeed, The New Normal reported on the effect yoga can have for mental health and mindfulness in an article last week. However, mental health is a complex subject and, for some, medication provides a complete change that allows them to get on with their lives.
Prior to taking citalopram, anxiety felt like a cold hand slowly crushing my heart in a vice. I experienced a constant sensation of nausea settled firmly in the back of my throat and was overcome with the whirling sense of an impending storm that would never break.
That’s where anxieties take you – to an impossible future dominated by social isolation. A future where everyone you care about turns on you, and your entire life both past and present crumbles before your eyes. The condition puts an enormous strain not only on the individual, but also on those closest to them. Family and friends often become the target of low boiling frustrations, driven by the need to overanalyse every word.
Identified as one of the largest areas of burden on worldwide health, mental wellbeing is an understandable area of concern worldwide. According to the Mental Health Organisation, mental health issues “cause over 40 million years of disability [worldwide] in 20 to 29-year-olds”.
Mental health has been identified as a key area of interest for all major parties in Holyrood and the Scottish Government recently launched a £300 million mental health strategy to improve mental health provision in Scotland over the next ten years. The scheme seeks to enhance mental health provision by employing 800 more mental health workers in accident and emergency services, doctor surgeries, police stations, and prisons.
In April, it was revealed that for rural Scots mental health provision is difficult to access – many desire more localised support. The government has announced that it aims to combat the lower levels of mental health provision in rural areas, with the increase in mental health workers part of this. Limited access is identified as one of the major barriers to obtaining mental health support.
According to the initiative, “only 1 in 3 people who would benefit from treatment for a mental illness currently receive it, on current estimates.” Closing this gap includes improving the process of diagnosis and encouraging individuals to come forward with mental health worries.
Psychological research suggests that males are far less likely to come forward with mental health concerns than females and that this may in part lead to the significantly higher suicide rate among men. This rate is more than two and a half times higher among men than women in Scotland. Charities like SeeMe and the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH), alongside mental health organisations, work to break these barriers and allow both men and women to come forward with their own issues and work towards understanding their condition, and, if necessary, help them to receive treatment.
These charities and many others like them hope to improve mental wellbeing across Scotland and champion better mental health provision. The government hopes that the coming initiative will make some headway towards this. However, the initiative has been criticised by several groups.
Both the SAMH and Scottish Labour’s Monica Lennon criticised the lack of support for young people both in and out of the schooling system. Mental Health is a major concern for the Scottish Youth Parliament, who called it “our generation’s epidemic”. They noted that 74% of the young people who took part in their study were unaware what mental health information, support, and services were available in their local area. According to SAMH, almost 7,000 young people were “turned away” from CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) last year, with no reason provided.
Scottish Conservatives mental health spokesperson Miles Briggs MSP said that the strategy would not do enough for mental health provision and labeled it a “missed opportunity”. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats have launched a plan for improving the mental health of new mothers and questioned the share of the overall health budget allocated to mental health.
However, while mental health provision continues to be an issue in Scotland, there are significant improvements being made, evidenced through several key figures. Most notably, the suicide rate in Scotland has fallen steadily since 2002 while an increased life satisfaction score means that Scotland is the second happiest region in the UK after Northern Ireland.
In my experience, the support I’ve gained from our health services has been what I’ve needed. It’s not been perfect, but I doubt any experience could be. Mental health is extremely personal – how I am affected will not exactly match with many others.
Each person will feel depression in different ways, and explain them as they experience it. The grip anxiety had on my heart might feel to others like their stomach has dropped out. By its very nature, mental illness does not present uniformly. There is no way we could expect a perfect system, but improvements can be made, so that more might feel the relief of having a constant struggle made a little lighter.