The future of the left since 1884

Let’s be bold

'We can tackle the problems people with mental illness face', writes Anas Sarwar MSP in the latest of the Fabian Health group’s Fabian Perspectives on Mental Health project.


Opinion light at end of tunnel

We need a re-think on mental health and how it is prioritised. Because if we are honest, it has just not received the attention, and funding, that it both needs and deserves. We need to act faster and we need to be bolder.

The symptoms of mental health are often difficult to notice or even talk about and it has proved difficult for advocates of greater prioritisation for mental health to have their case heard, far less acted upon.

A mental health issue feels just as bad, or worse, than any other illness – only you cannot see it. Although mental health issues are very common – affecting around one in three people in Scotland – there is still stigma and discrimination towards people with mental health issues, as well as many myths about what different diagnoses mean.

Because of this, it strikes me that it has been easier to present an argument for increased cancer funding or greater resources for heart disease, despite the numbers affected by mental health. Consequently, it has always been a much more difficult proposition to campaign for more focus on mental health. It is incumbent on us to challenge that.

The scale of the mental health challenge is big and it is only going to grow.

The number of children with recorded mental health problems in school has more than doubled between 2012 and 2016 – yet, shockingly, more than 300 children waited more than a year for mental health treatment last year. And in an ageing society where people are living longer, more isolated lives, we know more and more people are experiencing mental health problems.

And we cannot afford to do nothing. In addition to the direct costs to the NHS, our economy incurs further costs relating to unemployment, suicide or substance abuse which we know is connected to poor mental health.

Recent figures suggest that in Scotland, beyond the human cost, the health, social care and economic output costs associated with mental health are in the region of £10bn year.

That is why Scottish Labour has ambitious plans to support and protect mental health services in Scotland.

Scottish Labour will ring fence mental health budgets to ensure the resources reach the font line where they’re needed most. Words are good, action is best, so that is why we will ensure frontline mental health services have their budgets protected.

Scottish Labour will also guarantee access to a school based counsellor for every pupil in Scotland. That is why we will restore the bursaries for educational psychologists. Under the SNP, the number of educational psychologists has fallen for four years in a row.

And we will develop a programme of mental health training for all staff in schools and those involved in delivering education.

We have heard evidence from senior doctors that the best way to close the education attainment gap is to provide school based mental health support for pupils, particularly those who are most vulnerable or who have the most chaotic home circumstances. How a child performs at school can have a huge lifelong impact, so ensuring the right support is available at key times in a child’s life is vital.

But I want us to go further.

I want us to deliver guaranteed access to mental health support in every college and university campus and workplaces across the country.

We also need to recognise that there will be people who need support in crisis situations. That can’t be provided by waiting days on end for a GP appointment and then weeks, maybe months, on end for an appointment with a counsellor. Often it means that patients present at A&E – where again they will wait for hours – will be seen as being less urgent than those present with a physical injury. That is why we need to build emergency support, that can be in the form of centres or it could be better use of technology to provide quicker access to a counsellor.

By taking these practical measures we can make a difference. We can tackle the problems people with mental illness face and we can remove the stigma patients face.

To find out more about the Fabian Society’s health network contact: or follow on Twitter @HealthFabians.

Anas Sarwar MSP

Anas Sarwar is a Scottish Labour Party politician and has been a Member of the Scottish Parliament for the Glasgow region since the May 2016 election.


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