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Monday, 10 October 2011

Do something positive for World Mental Health Day...

...tell the Scottish government how to improve mental health services!

You might not know, but currently the Scottish government is involved a consultation exercise to establish the views Scottish people have on an issue vital to facilitating tolerance, understanding, diversity and societal well-being.

And I'm not talking about the not-very controversial consultation on marriage equality that most Scots are not only aware of but feel positively towards. Instead I'm referring to an equally, possibly more, important consultation being conducted on the future of mental health provision in Scotland.

The SNP government are quite rightly looking to promote "a new national mental health strategy bringing together work to improve mental health services and mental health improvement". This is the kind of thing that I imagine should receive cross-party support and, while I have some very minor concerns about the operational detail, it should be welcomed as a very positive step forward with the potential to facilitate a huge cultural shift not only in the way people with mental health problems are treated but also how mental ill-health itself is perceived.

Particularly welcome is the overdue priority given to widening access to talking therapies and implementing a National Dementia Strategy with additional support for carers. I am also pleased that the government is actively reviewing the relationship between community services and inpatient provision because, as someone who works within adult mental health, I appreciate that so often the interface between services is not what it perhaps should be and community services are often not sufficiently responsive to local need. There is a great deal more that can and should be done to improve community mental health services (especially crisis intervention) in a way that reflects local health priorities rather than centrally-driven targets. One of the highlights of my parliamentary election campaign was meeting a group of local mental health service users and finding how much agreement there was between their own concerns for the future of mental health provision and mine; I am immensely pleased that many of the recommendations of this group and others are now being advocated by the government.

But the most positive aspect of the government's stated new strategy is its admission that it does "not yet know what changes would deliver better outcomes" and therefore is seeking "to develop a better understanding of what changes would deliver better outcomes". This suggests a willingness to listen to those directly affected by mental ill-health or who have experience of using existing services. Inevitably this is how governments often talk during consultation but I sense there is a genuine desire by the SNP government to work with people rather than for them - and to deliver a strategy for mental health that not only effectively tackles discrimination and stigma but can significantly improve upon current mental health outcomes.

Today is Mental Health Day. Improving mental health is something I passionately believe in - not only do I currently work in mental health services but have in the past used them. I could have written about the requirement to champion preventative approaches rather than reactive ones; about progress being made in delivering psychological therapies; about how to more effectively tackle stigma or the need to adopt with urgency the recovery-focused model for mental health improvement. All these are important. But, in the end, I decided to leave the talking to you. If you're a Scot - and you care about mental health - tell the government what you think they should be doing to improve mental health services. You have a rare opportunity to shape the future of the nation's mental well-being - please make your voice count! You can have a look at the various consultation documents and respond here.

However, if you're not sufficiently fortunate to be a Scot, why not contact your MP and make your own suggestions for delivering modern, fit-for-purpose and effective local mental health services?

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