More needs to be done says parliamentary group

3rd November 2020

The Cross Party Group on Mental Health has called on the Scottish Government to do more to help people access treatment and support. This is the group’s second report of a two-year long inquiry into the four key areas of the Scottish Government’s ten year mental health strategy.        

There is a lack of treatment and support for adults with mental health problems, available in Scotland today. That’s one of the key findings in a new report by the 78- member Scottish Parliament Cross Party Group on Mental Health, as part of its inquiry into progress with the Scottish Government’s Mental Health Strategy.

The report found that there is emerging evidence of some positive outcomes in access to mental health treatment, including progress on perinatal support and new funding to bring mental health into multi-disciplinary teams. Some new mental health initiatives have been established in response to the coronavirus outbreak, while pre-existing programmes have been expanded.

However, psychological therapies and counselling are not readily accessible for people with mental health problems, and people lack choice in the type of therapy they receive. The group also reports that children and young people continue to be left without support and is concerned that the scale of investment in new services may not meet demand.

The report also found that people with mental health problems feel there is a lack of support for them to stay well, with most commitments on accessing adult services in the Mental Health Strategy focusing on crisis support or initial contact with mental health services.

Oliver Mundell MSP, Co-Convenor of the Cross-Party Group said:

“When it comes to access to treatment, we are right to recognise the progress that has been made but we cannot do so without acknowledging that for many this still proves far more difficult than it should be. Demand is often too great, resources too few or patchy and, definitely from what we hear from the group, it is inconsistent across the country.”

Patricia Rodger, who lives with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, said

When faced with significant life events I had no resilience to draw on - so each time I fell apart and I had to find ways to put myself back together because, without a diagnosis, there was no appropriate and effective support available to me. 

“Then when I was diagnosed with PTSD I could only access a limited number of sessions through the NHS with a trainee psychologist. This helped but I felt I had only begun to understand the issues when the sessions came to an end. Unless you have a significant mental health crisis, there is no alternative unless you can afford to pay for private therapy, I just didn’t have the money to pay for ongoing support.

“At the age of 62 I have finally been able to access some support that is making a significant difference. I now work as a Community Collective Advocacy Development Worker with AdvoCard and use my personal lived experience to support others. It is so important that everyone facing challenges as a result of poor mental health is able to access the support and treatment that they need and deserve.”

Ele Davidson, Collective Advocacy Development Worker at CAPS Independent Advocacy, said:

“When members of Lothian Voices, which is supported by CAPS, gave feedback to the Cross-Party Group, they were clear that they have not seen improvements in their day-to-day access to mental health services and that access has worsened as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Although we’ve seen digital and telephone access expanded, this hasn’t been a positive for everyone.

“The group pointed out that the strategy felt limited in it’s options for ‘access to services’ and that it lacked vision when including the third sector in ‘joined up services’. They were also concerned that the strategy seemed to concentrate heavily on children and young people and there was not a great deal of discussion for adults who are currently living with mental health issues.”

There was support for the new Mental Health Assessment Centres developed as part of the response to coronavirus and the greater use of the digital service Near Me, and the group wants to see this type of service embedded into mental health support in the longer term. However, technology can cause problems: the group heard about appointments being cut short because data allowances ran out, and about people lacking privacy in their home to talk about their mental health as part of an online or phone appointment.

The group is urging that people be given a choice in how they receive support; digital cannot be the default, and the report calls for people with mental health problems to receive targeted support from the Scotland Programme, which provide free digital resources, data and skills training.

The report notes that many people with mental health problems feel abandoned, having had their support withdrawn, with often limited attempts to reinstate support as lockdown eased and services began to remobilise. The group strongly feels that the onus to reinstate support that was in place before the outbreak of coronavirus should be on mental health services, and not on individuals.

The report also calls for an inclusive approach to communication in mental health services, so that people who are deaf or have other communication issues can receive support.

This report is the second in the group’s inquiry into progress with the Mental Health Strategy. The first report was published earlier this year and focused on prevention and early intervention. The group has written to the Minister for Mental Health with its recommendations.                                                                                               

SAMH is issuing the report as part of its role as secretariat for the Cross Party Group on Mental Health. Find out more about the group and read the full report here.