Mental health is just as important as physical health

This week I’m joining the Mental Health Foundation in marking Mental Health Awareness Week.

There has been a huge amount of good work done in recent years to raise awareness of mental illness, reduce stigma and challenge mental health related discrimination. Many organisations in Scotland including the Mental Health Foundation, See Me, SAMH, Penumbra, Samaritans and The Alliance play a huge part in helping to break down barriers associated with talking about mental health and together we are making progress, evidenced in part by the increase in demand for support.

All of us live increasingly busy lives in and it is all too easy to feel overwhelmed by our many responsibilities whether it’s work commitments, financial worries, difficulties in relationships or the pressures of social media and information overload. And whilst we will regularly take care of our physical health by watching what we eat and drink and exercising regularly, not enough of us will pay attention to or make the time for looking after our mental health.

But the fact is our mental health is just as important as our physical health and we all need to take better care of ourselves.

That’s why it’s important to encourage people to think about their mental health and what they need to do to protect it – just as we do already with physical health – and to feel comfortable in coming forward and being open about any problems they might be facing.

And it’s something we all need to think about a lot more than we currently do. Generally, around one in four people in Scotland are estimated to be affected by mental illness in any one year, so even if you personally don’t experience a problem, it is inevitable that someone close to you will. That’s why it is not only important to think about what we can do to take care of our own mental health, it is also important to be open to talking about the subject with others and learning to spot the signs when someone might need a bit of help.

Being aware of how people around you may be feeling and not being afraid to ask ‘are you okay?’ can play a huge part in making people feel comfortable about opening up. It’s a simple action which can help people find the right support early on, which we know helps to prevent problems from worsening.  

I personally have spent time talking to people, particularly young people, about mental health – both about how we promote good mental health and how we as a government can provide better and faster support to people who are experiencing difficulties.

We know we need to listen to stakeholders, people working in mental health services and of course, the people who have personally used those services, when we are developing policy. This is why our new Mental Health Strategy, published last year, was shaped by a public consultation – a consultation which received nearly 600 responses.

Work is now underway to take forward the 40 actions within the strategy, all of which aim to improve the delivery of adult as well as child and adolescent mental health services.

A strong workforce is at the centre of our plans so we are investing to provide 800 additional mental health workers in key locations such as A&E departments, GP practices, police stations and prisons.

We are also improving support for preventative and less intensive child and adolescent mental health services to tackle issues earlier, including reviewing counselling and guidance services in schools to ensure they are delivering for children and young people.

The views of our young people are particularly important in tackling mental health challenges so just last month we set up a Youth Commission on Mental Health Services – a team of young people who, working with Young Scot and SAMH, will conduct a study aimed at reshaping the support available to young people, drawing from their own experiences.

All of this work is underpinned by a significant financial commitment of £150 million over five years.

As we achieve success in encouraging more people to seek treatment for ill mental health we can experience pressures on service capacity.  Things are improving but we are committed to working together with NHS Boards, schools, councils, and other partners to ensure we have the right support in place at the right time for anyone who may need it.

Periods of ill health can be recovered from if treated so let’s remember to make time to look after our own mental wellbeing and be mindful of those we are close to.

Most importantly, when things get too much, everyone should know that there is always someone to talk to – and always people who love them. So if you, or someone you know, feel that talking could help with any worries you have about mental health, these numbers might be useful.

Samaritans – 116 123

Childline – 0800 1111

Breathing Space* – 0800 83 85 87

*Opening hours

Weekdays: Monday-Thursday 6pm to 2am

Weekend: Friday 6pm-Monday 6am