No time to be missing targets on mental health

Each year, one in four of us in Scotland will experience a mental health problem.

Mental ill-health is deeply personal and often isolating. Despite efforts by governments and charities, there remains a social stigma and lack of understanding about psychiatric conditions.

At every level of our society, we could and should do more to help those who struggle with mental health issues. We could and should show more compassion. We could and should have better treatment services.

In my practice as a solicitor, I see how prevalent mental health problems are in our country and the impact they have. Some are short-lived periods of distress brought about by an event – bereavement, divorce or an accident. But for many their condition is chronic; it is controlled, rather than cured, over the long term.

If you have, or know someone who has, struggled with long term depression or another psychological condition, you will understand the impact of this on every aspect of life. It can affect physical health, personal relationships and employment.

This month, the coalition Government announced new ambitious targets for the treatment of mental health illness in England and Wales. Treatment times for a serious psychotic episode will match those for cancer and patients with other conditions such as depression would have improved access to talking therapies: 75% treated within six weeks and 95% within 18 weeks.

Fast and effective treatment is essential for the individual, but it is also important for the wider economy. The cost to Scottish employers due to mental health problems is estimated to be about £2.15bn per year; the cost to society due to lack of employment among people with mental health problems is estimated to be about £1.44bn per year.

In Scotland, we have had targets for mental health treatment since 2012. The Scottish Government’s Mental Health Strategy for Scotland committed to access psychological therapy within 18 weeks by December 2014.

However, the most recently published statistics, show that only 82% of people across Scotland are seen within 18 weeks. The year before, it was 81%.

Patients in Edinburgh and the Lothians are faring even worse, with only 73% of patients receiving treatment within the target time.

It is perhaps not surprising then that in early 2014, the Scottish Government revised down its target to 90%.

Unless serious steps are being taken now, it looks like the SNP Government will have failed, not just in its original promise but its lesser one too.

Since the referendum, the SNP has been pressed on public service funding and delivery in Scotland, particularly regarding the NHS. Too many people are struggling with the real problems that life can throw at us: poor health, inadequate housing, lack of meaningful employment. These are the issues of Government. These are the issues that impact real lives in Scotland.

The goal of better mental health for our country is important and attainable. On this, among a number of issues, the SNP Government needs to focus on what really matters and make up time lost while Scotland was on pause.


Healing wounds and moving on

This is a modified version of a speech I gave at the Law Society of Scotland’s post-referendum conference during a session titled ‘Healing the Wounds’.  I felt it was a fitting piece to publish here to round up the series of posts on the issue of Scottish independence.  Future posts will mostly focus on local issues from my campaign in Edinburgh Western. 

The referendum was an exhilarating, challenging and life changing experience for me. I am one of the thousands of people in this country who became politically active for the first time because of it. The last week, in particular, was intense, exciting and emotional.

Throughout the campaign, I was confident of the result. Bar a couple of dark moments, I expected a win for Better Together. And when it was confirmed after 6am on 19th September, I was proud of what so many had achieved, I was happy and I was relieved. But there was no sense victory over the other side. I took no joy in the faces of the Yes campaigners who remained at Ingilston until the final result; I took no satisfaction from the pictures of broken hearted fellow Scots in the newspapers over the following days.

There was a sensitive, compassionate and insightful feature in the Scotland on Sunday by Peter Ross about the aftermath of the result for Yes campaigners.

He related the feelings of those he had spoken to: anger, heart-break and bitter disappointment. He said that while it might look melodramatic in print, the impact of the campaign on these activists should not be underestimated. “Although the political transformation they sought had not come about, many feel huge personal change. They are engaged with society in ways they were not before. They feel, finally, that they have managed to get some purchase on life.”

I was moved by this and recommended that all No supporters read it because we all need understanding, compassion and insight to heal our nation’s wounds and move forward.

To me, the campaign came down to one issue: how to forge a better, more prosperous, more socially just Scotland. Yes or No, our aims were the same even if our solutions were different. We now have the answer of the Scottish electorate and we must all move forward together, united in that one aim.

Political engagement has never been higher in Scotland. Scotland expects and our political leaders must deliver. Creating further division now can not be helpful. Acceptance of the result and working constructively with the Smith Commission is essential for all sides of the debate, but particularly the SNP. As the party of Government, they have a duty to act in the interests of all of Scotland, not just the so-called “45%”.

It is a huge privilege and challenge to be standing as a Holyrood candidate at this period of our history. I could not describe the honour it would be to be elected as a member of the Scottish Parliament in this new era of devolution.

It is an exciting and demanding time for us all in this small, proud country. I am confident that by coming together, we will be equal to the task ahead. That is how we not only heal the wounds, but draw new strength from the referendum.