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Inside Holyrood: Improving mental health support

By Scott Maclennan

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Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Emma Roddick.
Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Emma Roddick.

Highlands and Islands MSP Emma Roddick says she has been thinking a lot about mental health crises.

As a member of the Cross-Party Group on Mental Health in Parliament, I hear a lot of discussion around awareness and prevention of mental illness. These are both good things. However, I often feel there is a reluctance to talk about or acknowledge the fact that, no matter how good your preventative measures are or how aware everyone is of depression, some people will still find themselves in crisis.

Not just those who are already adults and won’t benefit from posters in schools tomorrow, but those who have conditions which mean it is likely that, at some point in their lives, they will feel suicidal.

Before my election, I talked to the Highland Council about acute services – how we deal with people who, in the moment, are at risk of suicide or serious self-harm. While almost everyone was sympathetic and wanted to do something to help, most, again, brought the conversation back to leaflet campaigns and early intervention.

People would rather talk about things that are easy to understand, and I can see why – if you haven’t experienced that dark, overwhelming despair, imagining someone feeling terrible enough that they no longer want to live must be quite difficult.

That inability to understand usually leads to people being unsure what to say, offering some sympathy and changing the subject.

A worse kind of reaction is when they become afraid. I experienced this myself during the election in May: a blogger decided to write about the fact that I, a candidate, had the utter cheek to have been diagnosed with a mental health condition. Venom ensued.

We have to get better at talking about all types of mental health conditions, and that includes psychosis, permanent conditions, and trauma-based disorders – not just sticking to treatable, preventable, and more widely understood and accepted types of depression and anxiety.

I do think mental health awareness is getting better in workplaces – most of them, at least. But it worries me that councillors and even legislators still feel uncomfortable talking to or about those of us with lived experience of a crisis.

We all know stories of patients seeking help or being taken to New Craigs only to be sent home to afraid family members and friends who watched on, feeling helpless and not knowing who to phone.

One of the things I am proudest of so far is my campaign to have an option added to NHS 24’s 111 line for mental health callers. I had to call the number recently and noted that mental health was now option 1. I urge those who are experiencing or witnessing a crisis to make use of this resource.

This is going to be a very difficult winter for many – it’s my first without my Mam and that’s true for many out there who’ve suffered loss at the hands of Covid-19. Please, be kind to yourself, stay safe, and keep others safe, too.

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