Zaic Holbrook, director of Scottish Labour Members’ Campaign for Mental Health and Acting Chair of LGBT Labour Scotland, says radical improvement of mental health services in Scotland is now critical.
If I were to see my GP today (after having scheduled it two weeks in advance) and ask them for help with any mental health condition, I would be put on a free prescription courtesy of NHS Scotland, make an appointment for a month’s time to see how the prescription is working and get it renewed.
I would not get psychiatric treatment for another 6-8 months if I couldn’t afford to go private. The alternative for quicker treatment would be to reach a crisis point in my mental health and need to go to A&E.
To put this in perspective, the Scottish Government changed the waiting list targets for psychiatric services from 6 months to 4 months back in 2014. It even created a minister for mental health in the Scottish cabinet. But instead of this delivering progress, things have only become worse. By the SNP’s own admission, not enough is being done for the NHS to meet its new 18 week target. In fact, one in five patients have to wait even longer than that; five of the NHS Scotland boards still are not meeting the previous 26 week wait target.
The wait is so long, it’s very likely a person will receive post-crisis treatment.
I’m currently on an NHS waiting list for the second time in the last three years for mental health services. I know I’m not alone in this as the waiting times in NHS Lothian have increased from 4 months the first time I sought treatment, to being told by my GP back in September to expect to wait 6-8 months for non-specialised psychiatric services, maybe a wee bit less for the specialised one. I was told I’d have better luck getting counselling from the third sector or from the university if I couldn’t go private, but that both these services are stretched thin and underfunded.
You can’t go to a cinema without seeing the brilliant see me Scotland advert. This and similar campaigns to raise awareness and tackle stigma of mental health conditions have proven successful. We’ve seen a 12% drop in the suicide rate in Scotland last year. With this success comes an increase in the number of people less afraid to seek the help they need, which is fantastic. But in its current state and with cuts to funding from the Scottish Government, NHS Scotland is simply unable to cope with the increased demand. Given the government’s consistent underspending of the budget, this is farcical.
But it’s not just cuts to the NHS that are proving disastrous for those of us with mental health conditions in Scotland. Many of the frontline community services provided by councils have been cut as we face continued slashing of council funding on top of nine years of the Council Tax freezes imposed by John Swinney. Adding to all of this, there is still massive stigma towards people with mental health conditions, especially in the workplace, and our current climate of neoliberal austerity and economic uncertainty leave many of us unable to cope with daily living. Only Scottish Labour has actually set out a plan to tackle this.
Nine years in, and the SNP’s record on tackling this crisis we face as a nation is failure. We cannae rely on a government that is intent on covering up the rotting stench of deteriorating and over-stretched public services with a few thistles. We need Scottish Labour to lead on a campaign to fix our Mental Health services, to properly fund them, and to improve them radically.
We need to stop treating a four month wait as a lofty goal, and instead see it for what it is: a scandal.
This February, several party members and I are launching the Scottish Labour Members’ Campaign for Mental Health up in Edinburgh. We’ve come up with simple pledges for our candidates, and they are all the sort of things that any candidate from any party should adhere to:
- to ensure their staff have mental health awareness training,
- to visit their local psychiatric hospital ward and talk to current and past service users, and
- to talk to local businesses and schools about mental health.
It’s great to hear that over a quarter of our list candidates have already agreed to sign our pledge, and the signups just keep rolling in. These conversations need to be had in, and be enabled by, Scottish Labour.
We’ll be launching this conversation on the 14th of February at Teviot Row House in Edinburgh.