Nicola Sturgeon, Annie Wells, Clare Haughey and Willie Rennie.
By Democrat reporter
This year’s theme for Mental Health Awareness Week is body image, which the First Minister says is an important factor in mental well-being.
Clare Haughey, the mental health minister, launched the week in Glasgow, where she and the Mental Health Foundation spoke to members of the public to raise awareness of the issue.
She also visited Girl-guiding Scotland to hear at first hand from girl guides how body image affects them.
Nicola Sturgeon said: “Ahead of awareness week, we announced a new advisory group that will examine how body image impacts on young people’s mental well-being.
“It will identify steps to improve support for young people and advice for relevant professionals, building on our package of measures to improve young people’s mental health.”
However, she came under fire at Holyrood from both Liberal and Conservative members.
Tory Annie Wells said: “It is absolutely right that mental health is now near the top of the political agenda. However, although we hear good talk from the Scottish National Party, the reality for those who need support is far different.
“The SNP pledged to hire an extra 800 mental health workers but the latest statistics show that only 106 have been hired in the past two years.”
She asked the First Minister to outline what specific action the SNP intends to take “to ensure that the target is met by the end of 2021-22 rather than being missed spectacularly.”
However, Nicola Sturgeon, replied: “We are on track to deliver on that target. We have commitments to increase the number of school counsellors; £60 million has been invested to support an additional 350 counsellors in education.
“The first tranche of counsellors will be in place from the start of the 2019-20 school year. That commitment is on track to be delivered by the start of the 2020-21 school year.
“We have also committed to putting an additional 250 school nurses in place by 2022 and the first tranche of 50 additional school nurses will be recruited in the current academic year.
“Across all these areas, there is a real focus on not just ensuring that specialist services are there when people need them, but investing in the preventative services that we hope will stop people needing those specialist services in the first place.”
LibDem leader Willie Rennie revealed that this week, a general practitioner told him that he had stopped referring patients to mental health services because the waiting times are so long and there is no prospect of people ever getting treated.
He added: “The First Minister promised patients that they would get mental health treatment when they need it. They feel let down. Are they wrong to do so?”
Ms Sturgeon said: “Any patient who waits longer for treatment than we want them to wait or than the targets say they should wait is entitled to feel very aggrieved. I apologise to any patient in those circumstances.
“On waiting times generally, as Jeane Freeman [Health Minister] has set out to the chamber, we are investing £850 million to meet waiting times targets.
“We are investing significantly in mental health services to improve not just specialist services but preventative and community services, and child and adolescent mental health services are particularly important, with the average waiting time now falling and rejected referrals down.
“There is work still to do, but we are investing in and pursuing policies that are about getting in place the right treatment for people when they need it.”
Willie Rennie wasn’t content with her answer: “If warm words could treat people faster, the First Minister would not have thousands of people waiting for mental health services. One in five people are waiting more than 18 weeks; some are waiting as long as two years; and some never get any help.
“The First Minister says that she takes the issue seriously, but her Government’s mental health strategy was 15 months late, its suicide prevention strategy was 20 months late and it is 700 staff short of its own recruitment plan.
“GPs, accident and emergency departments and police officers have to pick up the pieces, because patients have nowhere else to go. In mental health awareness week, I ask again—years after I first asked her—why are people still waiting so long?”
The First Minister told the Holyrood parliament: “If warm words were all that people were being offered, Willie Rennie might have a point, but budgets for mental health are increasing. The budget for mental health is now more than £1 billion and we are committed to investing in increased staffing not just in mental health and our health service more generally, but in other settings across the country.
“Willie Rennie mentioned the mental health and the suicide prevention strategies. I think that it was at his request that we took time to do further consultation on those strategies, to make sure that we were taking the views of all stakeholders properly into account.
“We are determined to continue our work to ensure that people get access to specialist services when they need them but that fewer people need to be referred to specialist services, because we have the community and preventative services in place. That is what we are focused on, and we will continue to work on the progress that we are making.”