Action 12 in the “Mental Health Strategy: 2017-2027” outlines our commitment to supporting the development of the national rural mental health forum. The forum was established in 2017 and, through Scottish Government funding, it helps people in rural areas to maintain good mental health and wellbeing. The forum also develops connections between communities across rural Scotland to reflect the unique challenges that are presented by rural isolation. Membership has grown from 16 to 60 organisations, with the forum meeting quarterly to discuss outcomes such as how people in rural communities can overcome barriers to accessing and seeking mental health support.
I thank the minister for that encouraging answer, and I welcome action 12. The forum’s increased membership is evidence of demand and need. The forum is making a difference in tackling mental ill health in the unique context of rural Scotland, where around a million Scots live and where deprivation is hidden.
I recently held an event for local employers in my region to highlight the help and support that the forum can provide. Will the minister continue to work with the forum throughout the lifetime of the Government’s mental health strategy?
Government funding for the forum covers the financial year 2018-19, and the 2019-20 spending review process is on-going. I certainly recognise the work of the forum under its chair, Jim Hume. The forum has done some fantastic work and it is now the national network for driving change rurally.
The minister will be aware of the closure of two wards at the Royal Cornhill hospital in Aberdeenshire. The closure has given rise to concern in my constituency about the capacity for dealing with patients from Orkney. Will she investigate those concerns and provide reassurances that there will be the capacity to meet the needs of patients from the islands?
Levels of depression in the agricultural sector are thought to be increasing, and the suicide rates of farmers are among the highest in any occupational group. It is understood that one agricultural worker per week takes their own life in the United Kingdom. What mental health support is being offered specifically to farmers and agricultural workers in rural areas?
As I said in my answer to Claudia Beamish, there is the national rural mental health forum, which is doing a lot of work with farmers and the farming community. I expect that that work will continue. The national suicide prevention action plan will look at suicide prevention measures throughout the country. That work will involve looking at specific occupations and reviewing suicides to see whether lessons can be learned to prevent further suicides.
The Government prioritises mental health. That is evidenced by the increased spending over the past few years: we spent £1 billion on mental health in 2017-18. I encourage anyone who is experiencing a mental health crisis to seek help from their primary care team. There are also telephone services, such as NHS 24 and breathing space, that people who are in crisis can use.