MSPs have voted to declare that Scotland is facing a mental health crisis, as charities called for a “radical new plan” to safeguard the emotional wellbeing of the nation in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
In a debate at Holyrood on Wednesday, the Scottish Liberal Democrats argued that the Scottish Parliament needs to signal there is a crisis in existing mental health services in order for the situation to improve.
MSPs united against the government to vote 65 to 58 in favour of the Lib Dem motion, after a previous attempt to get parliamentarians to declare a crisis was rejected, in 2019.
The vote came as Holyrood’s health committee warned that after the pandemic “a mental health tsunami is coming, if indeed the first wave has not already reached us”.
Scottish Lib Dem health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said the backing of MSPs is an “important milestone” in the campaign for better mental health and follows similar moves to declare a climate change emergency and drug deaths crisis.
He hopes the vote will be a “platform for the transformation of mental health” and stressed it is now time to get on with ending long journeys and waits for treatment, and expanding the mental health workforce.
During the debate, Mr Cole-Hamilton raised the case of David Ramsay, who took his own life after being refused treatment at Dundee’s Carseview Centre days before.
His niece, Gillian Murray, has since become one of the primary figures in campaigning for better mental health care in the region, ultimately leading to NHS Tayside commissioning an independent inquiry into its services.
‘It is still happening’
Just days after the father of a 17-year-old boy and the daughter of a 46-year-old woman who took their own lives, each after staying at Carseview, called for better mental health services, Mr Cole-Hamilton stressed “it is still happening”.
“Hard-working staff are working round the clock but they have never had the resources or support they need to be able to meet the considerable demand that they face,” the MSP said.
“We know that inpatient care is struggling and I have raised many times the case of David Ramsay, who took his own life after being turned away from Carseview in Tayside.
“His niece, Gilly, messaged me just this morning to say that it is still happening, and with tragic consequences.
“I don’t doubt the Scottish Government’s concern for people across this country but we need to recognise there is a crisis if the response is to match the scale of it.”
‘Largest investment since devolution’
During the debate, mental health minister Clare Haughey told MSPs that mental health funding in 2021-22 would be more than £1.2 billion.
She also highlighted a £120 million mental health recovery and renewal fund, announced by the Scottish Government on Tuesday, hailing it as the “single largest investment in mental health in the history of devolution”.
However Ms Haughey accepted the pandemic had been a “time of national trauma”, and said mental health would continue to be an “absolute priority” for ministers.
“We have been through several stages of lockdown, restrictions and recovery, and each of these phases has had widespread impacts on the mental health and wellbeing of people across the country,” she said.
“The experience has been draining psychologically for many of us. The importance of mental wellbeing has been all too clear.”
Charities called for a radical plan to help those suffering during the pandemic and warned services were already struggling before coronavirus arrived in Scotland.
Billy Watson, chief executive at the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH), said: “The nation’s mental health, and the mental health systems designed to support it are being challenged like never before, within a system which was already showing signs of strain before the pandemic.
“While we welcome today’s parliamentary debate highlighting this important issue, we now must see real political and government commitment to make mental health a priority.
“If we are to avoid this growing mental health crisis, we need a radical new plan.”
Lee Knifton, director of Mental Health Foundation Scotland, said “much more” must be done to safeguard emotional wellbeing amid “increasing levels of stress and anxiety” during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Conservative health spokesman Donald Cameron claimed the Scottish Government has “completely taken its eye off the ball and we can see how that has impacted mental health services across Scotland”.
The Tory MSP added: “We need a government that will focus on tackling the mental health crisis head on, and not burying its head in the sand.”
The comments came after health committee convener Lewis Macdonald issued his own warning on mental health.
Mr Macdonald said: “It is clear from this work we have undertaken, but also every other session we have held recently, that a mental health tsunami is coming, if indeed the first wave has not already reached us.
“We would welcome the Scottish Government’s proposals to address the mental health concerns we have heard about.”