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.

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