– in the Scottish Parliament on 25th May 2017.

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Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

1. To ask the First Minister what engagements she has planned for the rest of the day. (S5F-01301)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Members will be aware of the heartbreaking news today that 14-year-old Eilidh MacLeod from Barra was among those who were killed in the Manchester Arena on Monday night. I know that we will all want to send our love and thoughts to Eilidh’s mum and dad and to all her family and friends at this dreadful time for them. Our thoughts are also with Eilidh’s friend Laura MacIntyre, who remains in hospital.

Later today, I have engagements to take forward the Government’s programme for Scotland.

Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

I associate myself with the words of the First Minister. The thoughts and prayers of those on the Conservative benches are with the families of those who lost loved ones on Monday and, today, particularly with the family of Eilidh MacLeod, her friends and the whole Barra community. It is a tragedy that will be felt by everyone on the island, which is a close-knit community that is grieving today.

In my judgment, it would not be right to use today to indulge in the knockabout of an election campaign. However, I believe that we best show our contempt for the tactics of terror by going about our business of practising the very democratic values that bombers seek to destroy, so I would like to use First Minister’s question time today to do just that.

With the welfare of young people forefront in our minds, we spoke to the Scottish Youth Parliament yesterday to ask whether there were any issues that it wanted to raise. It is currently campaigning on the issue of young people’s mental health and the need to ensure high-quality mental health service provision for all Scotland’s young people. What action is the First Minister’s Government taking to improve the mental health of young people around Scotland?

The First Minister:

I thank Ruth Davidson for the approach that she is taking today. Above all, our young people, their interest and their wellbeing are in our hearts. The Youth Parliament has raised many issues over the years that not only have been of importance to young people in Scotland but have resulted in action by this Parliament, which is to the Youth Parliament’s credit.

As members are aware, the mental health of young people—children and adolescents—and ensuring that we meet the demand for services and have high-quality services are at the heart of our mental health strategy. Among many actions, we have given a particular commitment to a national review of personal and social education, of the role of pastoral guidance in schools and of school counselling services to make sure that every child has appropriate access to the right support in school.

Those actions have long been important but, given the events of the past few days, making sure that we have appropriate support for young people who, for a whole variety of reasons, experience stress, trauma and difficulty in their lives is hugely important. The Government is committed to making sure that we do the right things in that regard.

Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

Along with the concerns that were raised by the Scottish Youth Parliament, the Scottish Association for Mental Health launched a campaign this week that highlights the mental health needs of young people. The “Going to Be” campaign points out that three children in every classroom in Scotland will have experienced a mental health difficulty by the time they are 16 years old. It also points out that nearly 7,000 young people were turned away from child and adolescent mental health services last year and warns that, without help, their issues might worsen.

Does the First Minister share the concerns that SAMH has raised? Can she assure SAMH that the concerns that have been raised in that campaign are being taken seriously and are being taken forward?

The First Minister:

Yes, I share SAMH’s concerns. However, SAMH is a key partner of the Scottish Government in making sure that we take action to address some of these issues.

As I have said in the chamber many times before, many more young people are coming forward for mental health services. I know that that point is accepted and acknowledged across the chamber. We should encourage that, as it demonstrates that the stigma that is associated with mental health is reducing, but it puts an obligation on the Government, our national health service and other agencies to meet that demand.

There are two particular issues in Ruth Davidson’s question that I want to respond to briefly. First, on people whose referrals for child and adolescent mental health services are rejected, we have, as members will be aware, given a commitment in our mental health strategy to review rejected CAMHS referrals and a commitment to use that review as a foundation for further improvements. It is important to point out that there will be a number of reasons for rejecting referrals. Ultimately, that is and always should be a clinical decision—for example, another intervention before CAMHS treatment might be needed—but we want to make sure that our child and adolescent mental health services are working well and are properly joined up with other services so that young people get the care that they need.

The second point is more general. In my first answer, I mentioned the review of personal and social education that we are commissioning. We should all also attach importance to mental health first aid. Mental health first aid training to support staff and young people in educational establishments is being funded by the Scottish Government and rolled out across Scotland by Education Scotland. Its aim is to train staff in secondary schools to increase their confidence in approaching pupils who think that they might be struggling with a mental health problem. That training is very much about complementing other, more formal services.

We are taking a whole range of actions, and I hope that members can unite behind that approach. We know that there is work to do, but we are absolutely determined to get on and do it.

Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

When we discuss such issues, we often talk about money and resources, of course, but it is often about other factors that are not within Government control, too. For example, there is the fabulous work that the scouts, the guides, the Boys Brigade and other youth organisations do, all of which has been shown to have a hugely beneficial impact on young people’s mental health. Such organisations change the lives of young people for the better in countless unseen ways and steer them to better choices and happier lives. Does the First Minister agree that, as well as celebrating their work, we should do more to support youth organisations and aim to ensure that, as far as possible, every young person in Scotland has the chance to join one?

The First Minister:

Yes, I do. We should pay tribute to the work of organisations such as the Boys Brigade, the scouts, the brownies and the girl guides. I think that we have had the Boys Brigade in the Parliament this week to talk about its work to encourage young people to take part in sport. It does fantastic work. I am aware that I am sitting next to a former member of the Boys Brigade, John Swinney, and I am sure that there are many other former members of the Boys Brigade in the chamber.

It is important to point to the work that such organisations do for a wider reason. It is understandable that, this week, we are talking about unbelievable horror and trauma that young people have suffered—principally those who were in the Manchester Arena on Monday night. Over the past couple of days, we have commented in the chamber on the fact that children across our country who were nowhere near Manchester will have been impacted by the scenes that they have seen on their televisions.

We should never forget that youth is a time of great joy. It should be a time of great happiness in which young people get to explore. I have read many things this week, including many beautiful and poignant things about young people experiencing the rite of passage of going to their first concert. We must always remember that our principal obligation is to support in every way that we can young people to be young people and to get the most out of life. Organisations such as those that Ruth Davidson mentioned certainly play a very important part in that.

Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

The First Minister touched on this issue earlier. This week, SAMH raised the issue of a lack of counselling services in secondary schools and pointed out that children in Wales and Northern Ireland have guaranteed access to schools-based counselling. Notwithstanding the mental health strategy that the Scottish Government has put in place, SAMH says that children in Scotland are missing out. Earlier this year, we published a paper on mental health that supported the idea of school champions and counsellors being appointed in schools, colleges and universities. In her first answer, the First Minister also referred to moves to improve counselling in schools. Will she give us an assurance today that the Scottish Government will take that forward in good time, so that young people in Scotland will have the same counselling services available to them as young people elsewhere in the UK have?

The First Minister:

Counselling in schools is hugely important. In a wider sense, it is also important to recognise that health and wellbeing is one of the core aspects of the curriculum for excellence, so it is embedded in the very curriculum of our schools. However, it is important that we make sure that schools have access to the resources that allow them to support the health and wellbeing of children and young people in a very practical and meaningful way. The review that I spoke about will look particularly at school counselling. I have also mentioned the role of mental health first aid training.

It is important to say that a mental health link person is available to every school. That is achieved in a variety of ways, using different models that meet local needs, so the link worker might be a CAMHS clinician or someone from another specialty such as a primary care worker. The named link person will be able to contact specialist services for advice if they need to do so.

The review that I have spoken about, which is an important aspect of the mental health strategy, will allow us to determine what further action we need to take so that schools have access to the right resources to give the best possible support to all young people.