SCOTLAND is facing a mental health crisis and people are dying because they are not offered the right support in time, campaigners claim.
Online campaigning organisation 38 Degrees, which has received more than 10,000 responses to its call for submissions to the Scottish Government’s mental health consultation, said the stories of ordinary Scots – several of whom spoke to the Sunday Herald – exposed the human impact of chronic shortages in funding.
The consultation, closing this Friday, aims to capture the views of individuals and organisations about the priorities for transforming mental health and the Scottish government has pledged to review the findings before publishing a new ten-year Mental Health Strategy later this year.
Testimony collected by 38 Degrees includes the story of Billie-Jean Nordkil, 21, from Dumfries and Galloway who repeatedly asked for help for years but was only given a diagnosis and proper treatment after making an attempt on her own life at just 19.She told the Sunday Herald her mental health was linked to childhood trauma. She said: “I had terrible low moods and depressive episodes. I went to my GP and was told that I had depression and anxiety – I didn’t want to go to counselling because as a child I’d had a very negative experience [of that].
“I went to the GP repeatedly as I was having urges to hurt myself. I told her I wasn’t feeling good and I wasn’t ok. I was sent to the crisis team, they chatted to me and sent me home. I didn’t have any other input until the following year after I took a really serious overdose of asthma medication.”
With the help of a community psychiatric nurse she then saw she chose to spent a week in a psychiatric hospital “to keep myself safe”, and was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and got support.
Nordkil, who now volunteers with youth mental health charity Soul Soup, added: “People are dying and something needs to give. I was nearly one of them and now I’m so glad that I wasn’t.”
Tracey Korsah from Kilmarnock waited two months for referral due to anxiety and depression before she received a letter detailing the pressure put on services and asking if she needed to be seen. She said: “This made me feel I was being a nuisance. I was in no state of mind to decide. People with depression find it impossible to do something proactive like pick up the phone and talk to someone to say ‘yes – you need to see me’.”
Another parent spoke about out about the distress of witnesses the “absolute shambles” of attempting to get care for her 18-year-old son with Asperger’s.
Simon Bradstreet of Glasgow University’s mental health and wellbeing research group, claimed the “untold levels of frustration and distress” that had emerged highlighted the need for systemic change.
“It’s no exaggeration to say that Scotland is at a crisis point in its approach to mental health,” he added. “We know early intervention aids recovery but too often people don’t get near help until they have reached a real crisis point. Even then people often have to fight and beg to get that help but it doesn’t have to be like this.”
Stewart Kirkpatrick, head of 38 Degrees in Scotland, said: “Whilst the issue has been sidelined by traditional politics, we have shown that people-powered campaigning can put mental health services on the political agenda.”
The campaign is calling for better provision of mental health services through GPs surgeries, more funding for early intervention and crisis services and better education on mental health.
Maureen Watt, Minister for Mental Health, said she was looking forward to meeting campaigners and stressed that mental health was a priority for the Scottish Government, claiming spending has increased by 38 per cent with an additional £150 million invested to support improved treatment.
The new strategy will “put the principle of ‘ask once, get help fast’ front and centre,” she said.
Lee Knifton, head of Mental Health Foundation Scotland, added: “As the 38 Degrees campaign highlights, there are still too many people who are not getting the right help early enough. There is a clear need to maintain pressure to ensure that political goodwill translates into real and permanent change.”
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