Moderator Designate C of S 2020/21

The Rt Rev Dr Martin Fair, who was inspired to set up a support service.

By Cameron Brooks

Scotland’s mental health crisis could get worse due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the new Moderator of the General Assembly has warned.

The Rt Rev Dr Martin Fair, who was inspired to set up a support service after Frightened Rabbit front man Scott Hutchinson took his own life, fears that social isolation will push vulnerable people to the brink.

Speaking at the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Week, he said: “The mental health crisis affects more people than will ever contract COVID-19 yet our response as a society continues to be patchy at best.

“My fear is that it is only going to get worse as a result of this present crisis and those who already feel isolated and vulnerable will be feeling it even more.”

Official statistics showed there were 784 probable suicides in Scotland in 2018, up from 680 in 2017.  The figures for 2018 showed 581 men died and 203 women.

Dr Fair said he hoped that people would take the opportunity during Mental Health Awareness Week to redouble their efforts to look out for relatives, friends and neighbours.

“Living in Scotland’s poorest communities, you are three times as likely to end your own life than if you live in an area of affluence,” he added.

“In the Bible, we hear of the One who came as the Light of the World (John 8:12).

“Wouldn’t it be a step forward if we each opened ourselves to that light, then allowed it to flow through us and illuminate the way for those around us?”

Dr Fair said he was left “devastated” after Mr Hutchinson took his own life in May 2018 and decided that he could no longer stand idly by and do nothing.

The minister of St Andrew’s Parish Church in Arbroath, Angus, oversaw the roll-out of three services delivered by the congregation’s social action project, Havilah, last year.

Although the church building is currently closed due to the pandemic, people in need of help are connecting with staff and volunteers online.

Dr Fair said it appeared that more and more people in the public eye are open to acknowledging that they struggle with their own mental health.

“This helps no end in terms of combating the stigma but much remains to be done,” he added.  “Silence is not golden.”

Need mental health support? Here are places that can help…

NHS Inform: As well as providing the most up-to-date guidance on physical health during the pandemic, the website also has a range of tools to support wellbeing – including guides on coping with depression and anxiety.

Clear Your Head: Help, support and tips from the Scottish government.

SAMH: Tips on protecting your mental health at this difficult time, including a blog series.

There are also a number of helplines available over the phone if you need someone to talk to…

Breathing Space: A weekend and night-time service run by NHS 24:0800 83 85 87.

Age Scotland: An advice and support line specifically for older people:0800 12 44 222.

NSPCC Scotland: A support line for children and young people:0800 1111.

Samaritans: A 24/7 service for crisis support:116 123.

Street homelessness problem not gone away, warn campaigners

Other areas of Scotland have been urged to learn from Edinburgh’s good example of dealing with homelessness during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Scottish Drugs Forum chief executive David Liddell said: “There’s sadly considerable variation, with some areas closing the specialist addiction services to new clients, which is extremely worrying.

“We’ve also had areas that have deployed staff away from addiction services and our argument has been that they should be seen as a priority service because this population is at significant risk.”

Helen Carlin, chief executive of homeless charity Rowan Alba, has commended Edinburgh City Council for taking 150 people off the streets and housing them in four hotels.

However, she stressed: “While they now have a roof over their head and three square meals a day, these people still don’t have a home. This has helped the problem, but I think it’s important that we don’t think that it has solved the problem of street homelessness.”

Sturgeon Ducherty Hughes and O'Hara of SNP
Nicola Sturgeon

Meanwhile, at her daily media briefing, the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon  referenced Mental Health Awareness Week and its theme of kindness, which she says is crucial in the current climate.

Nicola Sturgeon explained that NHS 24’s telephone and online services have been expanded to support mental health. 

She added the Scottish government has established a National Well-being Hub to support the mental health of NHS and social care staff.

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