Billy Watson: Mental health treatment improving

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There is a mounting concern across Scotland about available support for patients with mental health problems, with new research showing the vast majority of GPs (85 per cent) believe current provision is inadequate.

These findings come as no surprise in light of growing numbers of people consulting their doctor about their mental health. In fact, the Royal College of General Practitioners Scotland’s own research says almost one in three GP appointments in Scotland now has a mental health dimension.

GPs are absolutely vital to delivering support for people with mental health problems in communities across Scotland, but there are many areas needing immediate development.

Chief among these is huge interest in what is termed “social prescribing”, which can include referral to art classes, walking groups, peer support, horticultural and talking therapies.

With a range of positive outcomes such as enhanced self-esteem, improved mood and greater confidence, some 87 per cent of GPs are asking for information on local services for referral through social prescribing opportunities.

This new research was launched this week at the “Refreshing General Practice in Scotland” conference in Edinburgh and is the latest phase in the Scottish Association of Mental Health’s “Know Where to Go” campaign, which aims to tackle the barriers preventing people getting help and support for mental health.

Every day, we see the effectiveness of this approach in our work, with more than 2500 people with mental health problems across Scotland, including increasing numbers going through our own “Tools for Living” programme. Much of the debate on mental health recently has been around drugs and access to psychological therapies – with a Scottish Government target of no more than 18 weeks’ wait looming in December – so it’s hugely encouraging to see social prescribing emerge as a third option.

• Billy Watson is chief executive of the Scottish Association of Mental Health.