Covid lockdown: SNP must wake up to Scotland's mental health crisis – Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP

Two weeks ago, my party, the Scottish Liberal Democrats, convinced the Scottish Parliament to declare a mental health crisis in Scotland.

Wednesday, 3rd March 2021, 7:00 am
The isolation experienced by many during the Covid lockdown can lead to serious depression for some (Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA)

This is something that has been evident for some time. And it is to their shame that the SNP were the only party not to recognise that crisis when they cast their votes.

The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc and devastation not only on physical health, but on emotional health, and highlighted all the pre-existing holes and gaps in our already broken and understaffed system.

If you are physically hurt, you can phone or walk in to your GP and get help. But if you struggle with mental ill-health, you have to wait in a seemingly endless invisible queue, suffer the societal stigma, and then receive treatment, at some point hopefully within 18 weeks.

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During the pandemic, thousands of us experienced bereavement, cabin fever and anxiety around personal finances. Isolation is one of the worst contributing factors to poor mental health, and our communities have had that in spades.

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The negative impact of the pandemic on mental health

A year after the first outbreak, financial instability, separation from those we love, and other pandemic-related issues have contributed to the shocking increase of cases of depression, anxiety, and stress.

But the situation was overwhelming even before the pandemic. Just look at the impact on teaching: research by my party has revealed that the number of days lost to mental ill-health by teachers and school support staff has risen from more than 140,000 in 2017-18 to more than 180,000 in 2019-20.

The children and young people they teach are meant to be supported by a guarantee that they will be treated within 18 weeks. That is a long time for someone living with anxiety or depression. However, even that target is not met in two out of five cases.

If your child fell off her bike and broke her arm, you could expect her to be in plaster by the end of the day. As it is, if they came with an eating disorder or other self-harming behaviour, they would join the longest queue in the NHS.

It is time for a change. As a society we should not expect people to suffer in silence or wait months to receive treatment. Fifteen months ago, the minister for public health, sport and well-being told the Parliament that “mental health is a priority for the government. It is not a short-term priority, and it is not a here today, gone tomorrow political issue” but this Scottish government’s action has never lived up to its rhetoric.

Even the recent budget was going to cut the share of funding dedicated to mental health until the Liberal Democrats stepped in.

Much as the declaration of a climate emergency focused minds on the health of our planet and encouraged politicians to make ambitious commitments to reign in emissions, I hope that the declaration of a mental health crisis can focus minds and, crucially, unlock the funding commitments necessary to turning around the scandal of long waiting times and overstretched services.

The first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one. There is a mental health crisis in this country and it’s time the party of government woke up to that.

Alex Cole-Hamilton is Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western

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