Blog | Recovering from a pandemic: one step at a time

9th October 2020

From time to time we’ll be sharing blogs from SAMH’s Trustee board. In our first blog hear from Chair, Chris Creegan, on why, as we emerge from the pandemic, we need to create a mental health system that is fit for the 21st century.

A couple of weeks ago, I began my final year as SAMH chair. After presiding over our AGM on a Zoom call, I marvelled at quite how much our world has changed.

One thing has remained true though: the cause of mental health matters.

Of all the scenarios I envisaged when I took on the role, steering the board through a pandemic was not one of them. But my task has been made possible by the extraordinary efforts of SAMH staff to keep the show on the road.

The way they have adapted speaks volumes for their commitment. Remarkably, almost all our services have continued, despite the huge practical and emotional challenges involved.

However, it has not been plain sailing, either for them or for those who we work with.

In one sense, mental health has been high in the public consciousness these past few months. The need for us all to think about it has been front and centre of Scottish Government communications.

I have no doubt about the sincerity of the messaging. Decision makers know mental health matters. We have won that argument.

But behind the headlines there are pressing questions.

Those who arrived at the pandemic’s starting line with mental health problems have been hit hard. Many have had to contend with the withdrawal of lifeline services and continuing uncertainty about when they might resume.

Our mental health system, already creaking before Covid-19, is now under even greater strain. We have enormous pent up demand; the need for services grows daily and yet referrals have actually fallen. It’s a perfect storm.

I joined the board of SAMH because I have seen – and experienced – mental illness, first-hand. I know that getting and staying well takes enormous resilience.

I have often described recovery from the lowest point I reached – an attempted suicide – as a trudge not a revelation. One step at a time. Regrettably, I also know what it’s like to go on that journey without support from the system which should be there to help.

As we emerge, falteringly, from the pandemic, creating a mental health system fit for the 21st century must be one of Scotland’s priorities.

Just as it was for me – and so many others – there are no magic wands. Cash, for sure, will help. But investment is only part of the solution. We must spend wisely – and for the long term.

Our public institutions are in the most unenviable position imaginable right now. But lives depend on getting this right. Decision makers must play their part as stakeholders, alongside civil society organisations and those living with mental health problems.

Ten years ago, the Christie Commission on public services urged that effective services must be designed with and for people and communities. This co-design is not a nice to have. It’s essential – and SAMH is ready to play its part.

None of this is easy. Together, we will have to do it one step at a time. But they need to be big steps – and they need to be now.

You might be feeling lower, more stress or anxious at the moment. Even during these unprecedented times, there are things we can all to do protect our mental health. SAMH has developed a coronavirus mental health information hub where you can find information, tips and resources which you may find useful.