Mental Health (Schoolchildren)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 5th December 2018.

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Photo of Gillian Martin Gillian Martin Scottish National Party

2. To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on what action it is taking to support schoolchildren with mental health issues. (S5O-02640)

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government is working to strengthen child and adolescent mental health. We know that prevention and early intervention make a big difference in reducing the risk of developing mental health problems. We are working collaboratively to provide access to counsellors in schools. That will complement the spectrum of mental health services already being provided in schools, to ensure that every child and young person has access to emotional and mental wellbeing support in school.

We are also continuing to support local authorities to access mental health first aid training for key staff.

Photo of Gillian Martin Gillian Martin Scottish National Party

Will the cabinet secretary give an update on the commitment to having counsellors in every school and outline what impact that Government decision is designed to have on pupils and staff, particularly, as he has said, as a complement to existing pastoral care provision?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Work is actively under way to advance that commitment. We are working with key partners to identify the best use of resources, and we will publish a programme for delivery to ensure that the commitment is met. When we announced the programme for government, we said that we would set out a delivery plan for all the mental health commitments contained in it, and that work is under way.

One issue that we have to consider is how to ensure that that investment is compatible with arrangements that schools, using pupil equity funding, have already put in place as a consequence of their own decision making in seeing the necessity of strengthening the counselling services available to young people. That investment has been made in some parts of the country, and we must ensure that the Government’s commitment dovetails with and supports that approach.

Photo of Mary Fee Mary Fee Labour

Between July and September, almost a third of children looking to access mental health treatment waited more than 18 weeks to do so, and fewer children were treated within the target time this year than in 2017. When will the Scottish Government take its responsibility to young people seriously and act to meet the needs of schoolchildren with poor mental health?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

It should be pretty clear to Mary Fee from the commitments that were made in the programme for government that the Government takes those issues deadly seriously. The investment that was announced by the Government is in response to the very significant change in the pattern of presentation with regard to mental health issues. Mary Fee must be aware of that and recognise that as something that has changed dramatically in Scotland over the past few years.

Our focus is on early intervention and ensuring that we reduce the presentation of young people to child and adolescent mental health services, which I think that all of us would agree would be the best intervention. After all, the earlier that we intervene to support young people’s mental and emotional wellbeing, the better it will be for them. That is the agenda that the Government is pursuing; it is worthy of support, and I invite Mary Fee to do exactly that.