The mental health impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic have brought new and significant challenges as we all continue to adapt to this unprecedented situation. Many of us will feel excitement and relief about the opportunity to move more freely outside our homes and to meet our friends and loved ones again. However, that may be accompanied by anxiety about the spread of infection.
As we work towards transition and recovery, we need to ensure that the importance of looking after our mental health is just as widely understood as the importance of protecting our physical health. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Government has taken significant action to help support the mental health and wellbeing of the people of Scotland. We have invested a total of £6 million of additional funding to support the population’s mental health.
We launched the national clear your head campaign in April. Through television, radio and online resources, we have shared practical tips on how people can look after their mental health and wellbeing. We have set in train a number of initiatives to increase the capacity of existing services, both now and in the future. For example, in March, I announced an additional £2.6 million of funding to increase the capacity of NHS 24’s mental health telephone and online services. We have invested a further £1 million to roll out the Distress Brief Intervention programme on a national basis. The programme provides an “ask once, get help fast” intervention for people in distress. We have made mental health support and advice available to parents and carers through Parent Club. We have provided £105,000 to support Young Scot to develop enhanced digital content and resources on mental wellbeing during Covid-19.
I can announce today that we are providing nearly £43,000 to Beat, the United Kingdom’s eating disorder charity, to support its online and telephone support services. That funding will enable Beat to reach 3,000 people with an eating disorder over the next 12 months.
We recognise that people with autism, together with their parents and carers, may find changes to routine particularly challenging, so we have provided an additional £200,000 for Scottish Autism and the National Autistic Society, enabling the expansion of their telephone helplines and online services.
We have also worked with the Scottish Commission for People with Learning Disabilities, which has provided excellent easy-read versions of all key Covid-19 messages over this critical time, ensuring that the advice is accessible to everyone.
We are indebted at this time to our amazing health and social care workforce. As part of our efforts to care for those who care for us, we have launched the national wellbeing hub, PRoMIS, to provide a range of practical support, both now and in the future. Working alongside boards and the workforce wellbeing champion network, we are keen to build on the support that the hub provides. In particular, we plan to offer a national listening service for people across the health and social care workforces. We are also developing services for those who may need more specialist support.
I take this opportunity to recognise once again the contribution of our workforce. They have gone above and beyond, every single day, and their contribution has been truly extraordinary.
We understand that Covid-19 will have long-lasting impacts well beyond the initial crisis response stage. As such, we will continue to build on the success of those actions to meet changing mental health need. As we move through the phases of recovery, we will anticipate on-going challenges. There will be an increased need to provide different support for newly emerging mental health issues, which will be on top of the typical demands on mental health services. An intensive response will be required, which will need to be flexible and innovative. That is why we have identified the remobilisation of mental health services as one of our top priorities.
We are working directly with national health service boards to ensure that people have access to the right services at the right time. Boards across Scotland must be able to meet demand in a safe, effective, sustainable and quality-focused way. Mental health services have continued to be provided throughout the pandemic, albeit with adjustments in timescales for delivery and to accommodate Covid-19 restrictions. Urgent and emergency cases continue to be prioritised.
We have worked closely with boards through the pandemic to ensure the integrity and quality of child and adolescent mental health services. It is vital that mental health remains a visible priority, particularly for our younger citizens.
We are undertaking specific work on the recovery of mental health services, including innovation in services and modelling future demand. That detail will inform a full recovery plan covering all boards and all phases of recovery over the coming weeks and months. To ensure that boards’ mobilisation plans are robust, we are also working directly with mental health leads to build a baseline of service provision, which includes detailed information about how services can be restarted safely. Where required, we will issue further guidance or directives to promote a consistent approach to remobilisation across Scotland.
During our engagement with boards, we have seen new evidence-led approaches across Scotland. The innovative use of technology has been a key feature, which we will be keen to learn from as services are redesigned to meet the needs of patients. There are also plenty of fantastic examples of local practice that we want to retain. For example, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde has established mental health assessment centres to provide help and support for patients who are experiencing a mental health crisis and ensure that they receive a more tailored approach. That example of best practice has been taken up by boards across Scotland, and 17 mental health assessment services are now operational across the country.
Although services are a crucial part of the picture, our work must go wider and focus on the importance of mental wellbeing. The promotion of mental health at a population level will be central to the Scottish Government’s long-term response. Human rights, equalities, the importance of reducing stigma and a focus on recovery will be foundational principles.
Throughout the pandemic, we have worked closely with stakeholders to shape our approach and to determine our longer-term ambitions for mental health and wellbeing in Scotland. That engagement has helped us to understand the current and emerging needs that are results of the pandemic. Some are new challenges, such as support for people who are shielding, and some are existing issues that have been brought into even sharper focus over the past few months. An example is the relationship between poverty, inequality and mental health, which is at the forefront of our thinking.
Key to those challenges will be the development of the new community mental health and wellbeing services for five to 25-year-olds. In March, we allocated £2 million of funding to local authorities to plan new supports for mental health and emotional wellbeing. In addition, we will make up to £15 million available each year for the delivery of those services. Despite the difficulties that are posed by the pandemic, I am confident that local authorities and their partners can have those vital services in place this financial year.
As well as concentrating on mental health services and the importance of wellbeing, we also want to ensure that robust support is in place for people who experience distress. The Distress Brief Intervention programme is a prime example. Fast, accurate and individualised signposting to sources of advice and support is also needed.
In that changing landscape, our policy response will remain fluid and adaptable and will be led by emerging evidence. The Scottish Government has commissioned the University of Glasgow, in collaboration with the Samaritans and the Scottish Association for Mental Health, to undertake a Scottish mental health and wellbeing tracker study.
That study will track mental health participants for the next year, and provide a Scotland-specific insight into the impact of the pandemic and lockdown restrictions on the population.
We have also established the mental health research advisory group, which includes academics and public health experts from across Scotland. The group, chaired by Professor Andrew Gumley, is helping us to identify emerging research to guide our policy response.
In the next phase of our recovery from Covid-19, mental health will continue to be to the fore. That is why we are committed to ensuring that the good mental health and wellbeing of the people of Scotland is one of this Government’s top priorities. Covid-19 has illustrated more than ever why that matters so much. We remain determined that everyone is able to access safe, person-centred, equitable, efficient, timely and effective mental health support, should they need it. We will continue to engage with and inform Parliament as we develop our response.
I doubt that there is a single one of us who has not thought about our own mental health at some point over the past few months. In many ways, the pandemic has destigmatised, and shown us that it is okay not to feel okay. More people have been asking each other how they are doing. Those things really matter. The importance of good mental health is clear.
As we move into the next phase of recovery, there will be new challenges for us all to face, but we will face them together. There is no right emotional response to the national trauma that we have faced. Some of us have adapted quickly and will continue to do so. Some will find it more of a struggle, and that is okay. The community spirit and togetherness that has been shown every day across Scotland has been amazing. We must hold on to that.
The people of Scotland can be assured that mental health will continue to be an absolute priority for the Government. Thank you.