By Jamie Walker
Mental Health is one of the biggest challenge we face in Scotland. The barriers and inequalities facing Scots with mental health conditions should remind us why we need to continue to fight the stigma and discrimination that exists in 21st century Scotland. I spoke about this recently at the first ever SNP Disabled Members Conference which was well received. It amazed me as well just how many people raised the issue of mental health at the conference and wanted to ensure visibility for mental health issues. I believe therefore it is important that for 2016 we make a strong commitment to making it the year we break down the barriers on mental health in Scotland.
One of the biggest issues on mental health is that still unfortunately it is grossly misunderstood. I do not just say this in relation to how Scots with mental health are treated at work, in education or in society but in regards to treatment. Despite many advances in mental health treatment there are still a stigma and a lack of understanding on the appropriate treatments that need to be offered. This was highlighted by Toni Giugliano in an article in the Evening News. He argued that it is still that mental illness is treated with the same level of compassion and treatment as physical illness. I 100% agree with what he said. If someone is diagnosed with cancer, which my mother was in 2007, then that person is treated and is given time to recover from the disease. If someone is diagnosed with heart disease then that person is treated and given time to recover from this disease. It should also be the same for some diagnosed with a mental health condition. It may not appear that the mental illness presents any physical ailments but it is clear that they can. For example the willingness to self-harm is a physical ailment which requires treatment, understanding and compassion. Taking drugs or over drinking alcohol is a physical aliment which needs to be treated again with compassion and understanding. Further on in the article Mr Giugliano stated that over his campaign for the Holyrood Elections this year he wanted to create better links between support services and GPs for mental health patients as well as introducing alternative means of treatment such as walks and talking therapies. These are fantastic ideas and ones which I fully support. Much like many other illness, patients will react better to certain types of treatments better than others. By increasing the availability of alternative means of support it will reduce the stigma by ensuring that patients are treated in ways which help them recover.
In previous articles I have raised the issue of student mental health. As Student Election season approaches I want to applaud all candidates from across Universities and Colleges who are making student mental health and integral part of their campaigns. The truth is student mental health needs to be discussed on a national level and must be taken seriously. As I mentioned in a previous article, University is a time for enjoyment. Students should be able to live, study and learn without the undue stress or anxiety. However this is of course not the case for many students across Scotland. Many students suffer stress and anxiety due to coursework, paying rent and many fall into depression during university life. I know from experience that University life can be effected by mental health conditions. I also know from experience that my University has plenty of support available to students who do battle mental health issues during their period of study. I for example have had a Mental Health Mentor since I was finally diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder in my second year of University. Phil has quite honestly been a life saver and a calm and reassuring voice when I have been stressing or feeling rubbish during my time at University. We need to begin to ensure that all universities have Mental Health strategy which encompasses all aspects of a student’s life to ensure that they are supported right from when the move to their university to when the graduate. It is time for student mental health to be included in our countries national mental health strategy. With the strategy aiming to have a healthier Scotland one which has healthier citizens contributing to a flourishing Scotland it is so vitally important that students and their wellbeing are included in any national strategy. Students can be considered the most industrious, innovative and creative individuals in Scotland and their issues and concerns need to be taken into account in our national Mental Health Strategy. I will expand on this point in a future blog.
A final point that I wish to raise is that that by committing ourselves this year to removing the barriers to mental health we need to commit to Visibility. Not all disabilities are visible. As we know many people may look fit and healthy on the outside but on the inside they are battling and suffering. We need to ensure that all across society that mental health is given the visibility it deserves by ensuring that all disabilities are considered in adjustment measures and that mental health is always considered in access measures. One Campaign has already achieved this was Grace’s Sign campaign. The point demonstrated by the campaign is that even invisible disabilities should be noticed and that society should make adjustments for people with invisible disabilities with stigma and discrimination and without people with invisible disabilities feeling embarrassed. Our politics should do the same. All our political parties should continue to make strides to encourage and recognise visibility and make adjustments so people can come forward and speak openly and confidently about themselves. Crucially all political parties should encourage disabled members to put themselves forward as candidates in 2017 and beyond and so make this process as accessible and as flexible as possible and takes into account the needs of candidates with mental illnesses.
Disability access to society and politics is one of the biggest challenges we face in Scotland. In regards to mental health all the challenges that we face need to be tackled with commitment, dedication and compassion to ensure inclusion and visibility across Scotland. At the recent photocall to celebrate our first birthday, fellow ambassadors Lorna, Hannah and I spoke about breaking down these barriers to mental health. Watch this space.