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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Thursday, October 7, 2021

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, World Mental Health Day 2021, Portfolio Question Time, Heat in Buildings Strategy, Carer’s Allowance Supplement (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Carer’s Allowance Supplement (Scotland) Bill, Withdrawal of Scottish Statutory Instruments, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Point of Order, Decision Time, Correction


World Mental Health Day 2021

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Annabelle Ewing)

I remind members that Covid-related measures are in place. Face coverings should be worn when moving around the chamber and across the Holyrood campus.

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-01009, in the name of Paul McLennan, on world mental health day 2021: mental health in an unequal world. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes that 10 October 2021 is World Mental Health Day; welcomes this day of global mental health education, awareness-raising and advocacy; recognises the relevance of this year’s theme, Mental Health in an Unequal World, to Scotland; considers that, based on available data, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing inequalities in mental health; understands that this includes those with mental ill health, who, it believes, live on average 20 years less than the wider population, and those living in deprived communities, who are more likely to experience poor mental wellbeing, anxiety and depression, and welcomes the work by organisations across Scotland, including through Scotland’s Mental Health Partnership, to address both the causes and outcomes of these inequalities, in East Lothian and across Scotland.


Paul McLennan (East Lothian) (SNP)

It is a privilege to open this debate on such an important issue. After a year of unprecedented challenge for the entire world, I am pleased to be joined by colleagues to debate world mental health day 2021 and its chosen theme, which is mental health in an unequal world. World mental health day provides us, as elected representatives in this Parliament, with an opportunity to highlight the importance of and need for mental health education, as well as to raise awareness of the inequalities in our society and their implications for our mental health and wellbeing.

In March 2020, we entered a global lockdown in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and we are still experiencing its challenges today. Many of us then were unable to comprehend how much our lives would be altered in the months that followed. The pandemic has impacted on all of us, and Scots are now experiencing higher levels of psychological distress, anxiety and depression than we were pre-pandemic. Data from the Covid and mental health tracker suggests that people are now nearly twice as likely to experience those mental health challenges. Changes in work status, including being furloughed or losing one’s job, have had significant impacts, with people affected by such circumstances experiencing higher levels of depressive symptoms, thoughts of suicide and high psychological distress.

In my East Lothian constituency, I have heard directly from people who have been hit hard by the pandemic. I recently met the inspiring folk of Andy’s Man Club in Dunbar, which is a free-to-attend mental health support group for men. I attended one of its men’s support meetings, where I heard the experiences of other men and how Covid had impacted their mental health. It gave me an opportunity to pause and open up about my own mental health, and I found it incredibly helpful to speak to other men about their experiences. I was able to see at first hand how specialist groups such as that—like many others—are and have been essential. In the future, as we move on from the pandemic, they will absolutely continue to be so.

As I said, this year’s world mental health day theme is mental health in an unequal world. Since I became an MSP, one thing that has struck me is the true extent of inequality. Across all aspects of society, Covid-19 has exacerbated pre-existing inequalities, and mental health is no different. It need not be said that Scotland remains a society with significant inequalities, which extend to those with mental ill health and are mirrored in the mental health outcomes of disadvantaged groups.

According to the Scottish health survey, prior to the pandemic, the likelihood of a person experiencing poor mental wellbeing and mental ill health was partly linked to their socioeconomic status. During the pandemic, those from lower socioeconomic groups have consistently reported higher rates of depression and suicidal thoughts compared with those from higher groups.

It is no surprise that adults living in the most deprived areas in Scotland are approximately twice as likely to have mental health problems as those in the least deprived areas. In my constituency, that means that people who live in Tranent and Prestonpans, which are among the 10 per cent most deprived areas in Scotland, are up to twice as likely to have mental health problems as those who live in the most affluent areas of, for example, North Berwick.

When I was preparing for the debate, it was clear to me that mental health impacts on all of us in many ways and in many spheres of life. I want to give a few examples. In its briefing for the debate, the Royal National Institute of Blind People stated:

“A sight loss diagnosis can have a serious impact on a person’s emotional wellbeing ... There is a link between sight loss and higher rates of depression and anxiety ... Eye Clinic Liaison Officers (ECLOs), counselling services and support groups can all help someone with sight loss come to terms with their diagnosis”.

Up to 40,000 people a year are impacted.

In its briefing, the Construction Industry Training Board said:

“11% of inwork suicides happen in the construction sector, which employs 7% of the UK workforce. The risk of suicide among some site based male construction workers was three times the national average and skilled finishing trades, such as painters and plasterers, were twice the national average”.

Twenty-six per cent of construction workers who responded to a survey in 2020 had experienced suicidal thoughts, and 97 per cent had experienced stress over the past year.

Hospitality Scotland was in touch regarding the wellbeing of hospitality workers. It said:

“Hospitality is a sector with many workers and owners working extra shifts to keep businesses running. Others may have experienced reduced working hours as businesses offer a restricted service due to shortages. Customer expectations are still high. I would like to reiterate that it is in everyone’s interests to continue to be kind to each other.”

That is a direct quote from Hospitality Scotland.

Prior to my election in May, I had discussions with the Royal College of Psychiatrists on the nation’s mental health. I thank Aidan Reid for all his help and guidance. I have had several meetings with the royal college and the Scottish Mental Health Partnership since then.

I very much stand by the philosophy of “Deeds, not words” when it comes to the response on mental health recovery, especially for those experiencing mental health inequalities. Last year, 18 per cent of people waited more than 18 weeks for a psychological therapy appointment in NHS Lothian. Forty-two per cent of children and young people waited more than 18 weeks for treatment and support from child and adolescent mental health services. We all know that we need to do better.

Will the member give way?

Paul McLennan

I am conscious of the time, so if it is okay, I will keep going.

Recovering our nation’s mental health needs action, as outlined in the Scottish Government’s Covid-19 mental health transition and recovery plan and demonstrated by the £120 million funding for the mental health recovery and renewal fund, which will recruit 800 additional mental health workers this year and will ensure that, by the end of this parliamentary session, 10 per cent of all front-line national health service spend will go towards mental health improvement. Such commitments will help to shift the focus to prevention and early intervention and will reduce demand and waiting times for clinical services while addressing the evident mental health inequalities by ensuring that the right mental health support is available to every Scot when they need it, no matter their postcode.

Those are welcome steps in the right direction, but I am under no illusion: we can and must do more. In my maiden speech, I made a pledge to be a champion of mental health. For as long as I am an elected representative in the Parliament, I intend to be exactly that.


Audrey Nicoll (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)

I congratulate Paul McLennan on bringing this important debate to the Parliament. I am pleased to join colleagues around the chamber in debating world mental health day and, within that, mental health in an unequal world.

I thank all the organisations that provided members with briefings ahead of the debate. I also acknowledge people present in the chamber and beyond who have lived or living experience of compromised mental health. I thank them for listening.

Earlier this week, I joined a Scottish Association for Mental Health briefing for north-east MSPs. Although the focus of the briefing was suicide prevention, I had an overwhelming sense of déjà vu listening to the updated data on young people and suicide risk, albeit that it was framed in the context of Covid-19.

In its briefing paper on the impact of Covid-19 on 10 to 17-year-olds, Public Health Scotland outlined how

“Loneliness has been an unintended consequence affecting young people.”

In particular, it has affected vulnerable young people with communication difficulties, young carers, young people in the justice system and those who previously sought support because of mental health difficulties.

Studies indicate that some young people who had poor mental health and wellbeing prior to the pandemic had better mental health during lockdown, possibly due to school closures and the removal of school-based pressures. However, young people with pre-existing mental health issues described many barriers to seeking help, including not wanting to burden their families, feeling ashamed or feeling that they were not sufficiently unwell to seek help.

The World Federation for Mental Health report that was published to coincide with world mental health day states:

“Equality, fairness and opportunity have to be central to developing our young people in order to address existing inequalities and their effects on young people’s mental health wellbeing.”

World mental health day 2021 provides an opportunity for us to consider how we might achieve that.

The Minister for Mental Wellbeing and Social Care recently outlined poverty as the single biggest driver of poor mental health. We know that the pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing structural inequality in our society, but disadvantaged groups have disproportionately felt the adverse impact on mental health. As Paul McLennan outlined, the Scottish Government has committed £120 million towards a mental health recovery and renewal fund, with £10.3 million being allocated to improve access to child and adolescent mental health services.

The World Federation for Mental Health report reminds us that Covid-19 has underscored how critical mental health and wellbeing are for all children and young people, but the magnitude of the mental health burden that the world faces is simply not being matched with the response that it demands.

This month, UNICEF launches its report, “The State of the World’s Children 2021: On My Mind: Promoting, protecting and caring for children’s mental health”. It will call on Governments to commit to increase investment in CAMHS, promote connection through evidence-based interventions and take a leading role in breaking the silence surrounding mental health. Let us make 10 October—world mental health day—the starting point for that. I very much hope to see members there.


Craig Hoy (South Scotland) (Con)

I thank Paul McLennan for lodging the motion, which enables us to highlight the upcoming world mental health day 2021.

Almost every person in the chamber or watching at home will have experience of mental health issues or know someone who has suffered mental health problems. Experiencing a mental health problem is often upsetting, confusing and frightening, particularly at first and especially for the young. Those fears are often reinforced by the pernicious stigma that surrounds mental health. Although the see me campaign and others have worked hard to eliminate stigma and discrimination against people with mental illness, research conducted by SAMH and the Mental Health Foundation found that 56 per cent of people who experience mental health problems have also suffered discrimination. That, in turn, is likely to increase distress and a sense of isolation or even lead to suicide.

In Scotland, 805 people took their own lives last year. Sadly, about one in four people in Scotland is estimated to be affected by mental health problems in any given year. Covid has made that worse. As the Royal College of Psychiatrists has noted, those with pre-existing mental health conditions have been most adversely affected, as have the most disadvantaged, as Paul McLennan said.

Sadly, the stark truth is that Scotland is experiencing a mental health emergency. For too many people, accessing psychological support through the national health service is too difficult or, as the Public Audit Committee found out this morning, too disconnected or distant.

Launching its new strategy, which is called “We Won’t Wait”, SAMH said that

“Too many promises and a pandemic later, people are still being left behind. Rejected referrals, indeterminate waiting times and inadequate support”

are, sadly, common in the system. Before the pandemic, Scottish National Party ministers repeatedly failed to get a grip of the mental health crisis among young people. We must not let ministers dodge accountability for that. The problems that we are experiencing are not caused by Covid, although I recognise that they have been exacerbated by the crisis.

Research by the Mental Health Foundation Scotland reveals that lockdown and the closure of schools increased levels of distress and that many pupils suffered anxiety due to feelings of loneliness and worries about education and their future.

Stephen Kerr (Central Scotland) (Con)

The member makes an excellent point about access to mental health services. Does he agree that we should also be concerned about those who love people who suffer from mental illness? The sense of helplessness can sometimes be overwhelming, as many members and family members will have discovered.

Craig Hoy

Absolutely. Last week, I talked to a mother in East Lothian whose son had been thinking about suicide. She talked to me about her torment and her fight to get him the treatment that he needs but that the system is not giving him.

Like many SNP targets, mental health targets are routinely being missed. Almost one in four young people is rejected when they ask for help. In NHS Lothian, 37 per cent are not being seen within the 18-week treatment time target, and the situation in the Scottish Borders is even worse, at 46 per cent. Referral rates in Scotland have reached their highest levels on record. One in every 100 children and young people is being referred to child and adolescent mental health services for care. That is why SNP ministers must urgently ensure that the money that has been allocated to CAMHS, which was made available through the recovery and renewal fund, is delivered quickly. We all hope that the minister will elaborate on how that will be done. As SAMH has said, the Government must expand the network of support, increase funding for community-based care and increase the NHS psychological workforce by 50 per cent so that it mirrors levels in England and Wales.

Mr Hoy, please bring your remarks to a close.

Craig Hoy

Evidence shows that, with the right combination of self-care, treatment and support, a person with mental health problems will get better. That is why we urgently need to get to a position in which no one is left behind or left without support when they need it.


Carol Mochan (South Scotland) (Lab)

World mental health day 2021 carries particular significance, with people from nations across the globe facing a pandemic that puts restrictions on our daily freedoms, limits our contacts with friends, family and wider society and continues to cause many of us to lose loved ones.

For our young people, the pandemic has been especially difficult, because for months at a time they have been without the educational interaction that sustains much of their daily lives. SAMH highlighted:

“Covid led to a 55% reduction in referrals to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services ... at a time when children and young people needed more support than ever.”

It went on to state:

“Many children and young people feel that they have been at a point of crisis before they seek help.”

We cannot stand by and watch as young people struggle. A functioning mental health service would actively offer help, be in communities and educate people about the signs of mental health difficulties and when to seek support. We must properly utilise the expertise of groups such as SAMH that know the struggles that many face, and start dealing with the silent pandemic.

As we come through the Covid pandemic in Scotland and look towards recovery, we must be prepared to enhance mental health services with greater funding and resources. That starts with the creation of more posts to support those who are struggling with mental health problems. However, this is a global pandemic and, as the theme of this year’s world mental health day is mental health in an unequal world, the United Kingdom and Scottish Governments must be prepared to support other countries coming through the pandemic. That starts with supporting vaccination programmes across the globe and, as soon as possible, bringing an end to the pain that many continue to face daily. The UK may be making progress now, but no country can expect to progress fully from the pandemic and its impacts, including on mental health, until every country has equal access to medical assistance.

Health inequalities in Scotland predate the pandemic. When I met SAMH recently, it explained that the mental health crisis predates the pandemic. The failure to address waiting times for adult psychological services and CAMHS services predates the pandemic, too. The pandemic has exacerbated the problems that we collectively face and has exploited global inequalities—inequalities that we must all do more to address. We do ourselves and our services no good if we pretend that those problems are new.

The often alarming figures, which mental health charities across Scotland have highlighted for today’s debate, should be a wake-up call to ministers that there is no excuse for undervalued and underfunded services; nor is there any excuse for not giving mental health policy the priority status that it demands and deserves. Words do us no good when they are not backed up by action. I plead with the minister and the Government to listen to members, understand the figures and act—act to save lives and improve services for those who desperately need them.

I welcome world mental health day, the awareness that it raises and the focus that it puts on education, understanding and the need for investment in services across the globe. We know that those living in deprived areas, with less access to public services and facilities, and to outdoor green spaces, are more likely to experience mental ill health, so it is crucial that, in our endeavours, we do all that we can to address health inequalities whenever we find them and create a fairer mental health service that supports everyone who needs it.

Scotland has a chance to lead the way; indeed, it has the power to lead the way. Let us use world mental health day 2021 to revisit strategy and deliver for the people the services that they need so much.


Gillian Mackay (Central Scotland) (Green)

I welcome this debate in advance of world mental health day and thank Paul McLennan for securing it.

As the motion states, the pandemic has

“exacerbated pre-existing inequalities in mental health”.

We need to understand what is driving those inequalities, or attempts to address poor mental health will be immediately undermined.

Health and income are inextricably linked. According to the Mental Health Foundation, poverty is both a cause and a consequence of mental ill health. Its report, “Coronavirus Scotland: The divergence of mental health experiences during the pandemic”, states that

“already, before the pandemic, those at the lower end of the economic ladder were more likely to be experiencing a mental health problem.”

We must acknowledge the impact that poverty and income inequality has had on mental health during the pandemic. We know that Covid-19 has not affected everyone equally, and the Tories’ cut to universal credit will seriously worsen matters. Indeed, the British Psychological Society has warned of “devastating consequences” for people’s mental health. There will be an immeasurable impact on individuals and families, who will struggle to pay their bills and be forced to make the awful choice between heating their home and buying food, at a time when they are already dealing with rising living costs and the continued uncertainty of the pandemic.

Services will always struggle to meet demand while the Tories continue to enact policies that decimate people’s mental health and income. A truly preventive approach would seek to tackle the link between poverty and poor mental health. The Mental Health Foundation is calling for a universal basic income pilot to be carried out in Scotland. The Scottish Greens have long supported the introduction of UBI in Scotland, and I have no doubt that it would be an important tool in our efforts to tackle Scotland’s poor mental health. The Scottish Government has committed to introducing a minimum income guarantee in the absence of powers to implement UBI. I look forward to those proposals.

However, we must recognise that many interlinking factors affect mental health, including racial inequality, gender, disability, age and sexuality, as well as economic status.

Does the member agree that loneliness is a modern-day plague and that it is a huge contributor to issues with the mental health and wellbeing of people in our country?

Gillian Mackay

Absolutely. Loneliness is a particular concern for older people, who may have become isolated from friends and family during the pandemic because of people wanting to keep them safe.

The Mental Health Foundation report identified a need for better recording and reporting of information on ethnicity. It is clear that there is much work to be done on that. Wave 4 of the Scottish Government’s Covid-19 mental health tracker survey revealed that only 20 people from an ethnic minority background took part, which is only 16.5 per cent of those who engaged in wave 1. That is a particular cause for concern, given that the wave 1 report revealed that respondents who identified as black, Asian and minority ethnic frequently reported worse mental health indicators.

Quality data is vital if we are to understand and address the specific mental health challenges that people from ethnic minority backgrounds face. I look forward to hearing from the Scottish Government on how it will improve data collection.

Finally, I want to focus on the mental health of health and social care staff. They have been going at more than 100mph for almost 19 months. Many are exhausted, demoralised and at increased risk of burn-out. Yesterday, the NHS Lanarkshire branch of Unison published a letter detailing how the current pressures on our NHS are affecting the mental and physical health of those on the front line in my region and more widely across the country.

I welcome the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care’s announcement earlier this week of an additional package of £4 million to support front-line workers. When staff cannot access basic necessities such as food and water or restrooms during a shift, it will undoubtedly have an impact on their mental health. Staff have been under enormous pressure and have worked tirelessly in extremely difficult conditions to keep us safe. Now is not the time to turn our backs on them and demand that they get on with the job. I look forward to working with members across Parliament to ensure that those front-line staff get the support that they need and deserve.


Beatrice Wishart (Shetland Islands) (LD)

I thank Paul McLennan for bringing such an important debate to the Parliament. Sunday is world mental health day, which gives us the opportunity to reflect on treatment of mental health and the availability of support. The theme of world mental health day this year is mental health in an unequal world. We must improve mental health treatment the world over. We must also improve parity between mental health care and physical health care the world over.

In Scotland alone, statistic after statistic proves that more must be done. However, every statistic is also someone’s life—and a person’s mental health has an impact on families, friends and others around them. The Covid-19 crisis has disproportionately affected some groups, such as carers, those who are part of the LGBT+ community, refugees, migrant workers and young people. Even before Covid, mental health issues were prevalent in those groups and others. For example, as the Construction Industry Training Board briefing advises us, construction accounts for 7 per cent of the UK workforce and 11 per cent of in-work suicides. Suicide rates among some site-based, male construction workers is three times the national average.

We will continue to see the impact of Covid on mental health. In February 2021, the Scottish Liberal Democrats led the Scottish Parliament in declaring a mental health crisis. People are struggling, and when they seek help, they often find that it is not there. Problems that start small become crises, as help is either not available or arrives too late.

There is a range of things that we can start to introduce and build on. We can act now to expand services; train more mental health specialists for community services, hospitals and schools; establish new walk-in services in accident and emergency departments and crisis centres; and get mental health first aiders into workplaces. We can work together to end long waits for diagnosis and treatment, and create more services closer to where people live. That is more difficult in rural and island areas.

In communities that are more spread out, loneliness and isolation can often take hold more easily, and access to mental health services is simply tougher. No one should be left to struggle in silence, and no service should require people to go through endless hoops to access it. A first hoop that may leave people stopping seeking help is of no use.

Years of working hours have been lost to mental ill health. It is long past time to end the stigma and discrimination around mental ill health.

I am full of admiration for Chillax, a Shetland youth group that, pre-Covid, voluntarily started a self-help group to raise awareness of mental health and has developed workshops for schools and youth clubs.

Pandemic restrictions make us more vulnerable, and they have highlighted the issue. As a co-convener of the cross-party group on mental health, I look forward to that group’s work and to developing ideas and strategies to reduce suffering. Just maybe, that will help to reduce the statistics and have a large, positive impact—even on one person, their family, friends and support network.


Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

As co-convener, with Beatrice Wishart, of the cross-party group on mental health, which is supported by SAMH, I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate, and I congratulate my colleague Paul McLennan on securing it.

World mental health day, which is on 10 October this year, will focus on the theme of mental health in an unequal world. That is hugely important in ensuring that mental health is on the national agenda. It is also crucial to work on tackling the stigma that is associated with mental health and educating people that it is, indeed, okay not to be okay and to seek help and support. We need to remind people of that.

Covid-19 has changed all aspects of our lives, but it has also brought people and communities closer together. It has placed greater emphasis on supporting local businesses, on helping one another, and on the importance of kindness. It is really important to be patient and kind. The pandemic has allowed for a far greater understanding of the need to take mental health seriously and to have a society that puts the wellbeing of its citizens first and foremost.

I have pursued the issue of supporting the mental health of our front-line health and social care staff over the course of the pandemic. Being a member of NHS Dumfries and Galloway’s vaccination team has allowed me to hear directly from front-line staff and the public about the very real challenges that everyone is facing.

I am pleased that, since the beginning of the pandemic, the Scottish Government has provided more than £18 million, which includes support for NHS workers through £1.2 million for computerised cognitive behavioural therapy. I encourage the minister to ensure that those services continue to be available and are expanded on a needs basis, if that is required.

Across my South Scotland region and nationally, there are many examples of fantastic, hard-working groups that are dedicated to supporting all those who are concerned about their mental health. I have worked with many mental health organisations to promote the importance of positive health and wellbeing. They include organisations in rural and agricultural Scotland, such as the Royal Scottish Agricultural Benevolent Institution, the Scottish Association of Young Farmers Clubs, Dumfries and Galloway farmers choir, SAMH, Support in Mind Scotland and the Scottish Mental Health Partnership. All provide support to anyone who is concerned about their mental health and wellbeing, including people who are affected by inequality. [Interruption.] I do not really have time to give way. I want to proceed, because I have a couple of important points to make.

I thank each and every one of those organisations for all the work that they continue to do, particularly in these circumstances.

The impact of the pandemic on mental health has been highlighted well in the Scottish Government’s mental health tracker study, which contains some interesting information. In particular, the report indicates that more than a third of the sample reported high levels of psychological distress, a quarter reported levels of depressive symptoms, and nearly a fifth reported anxiety symptoms of a similar level. Approximately a tenth of the sample reported having suicidal thoughts in the past week, and a fifth of young adults reported suicidal thoughts. The report suggested that particular groups in our population were at elevated risk—specifically, women, young adults, people with pre-existing mental health conditions, and individuals from a lower socioeconomic background.

Finally, I want to raise awareness of the HelloYellow campaign. Thousands of people in schools, offices and communities across Scotland, including in Dumfries and Galloway, will be wearing yellow on Friday to raise awareness of the work of YoungMinds and child and adolescent mental health services, which are fighting for young people’s mental health needs. I congratulate them and encourage all to consider participating in the HelloYellow campaign—#HelloYellow—to raise awareness of mental health issues.

Again, I welcome the debate and I remind everyone that it is okay not to be okay and that support and help are out there.


Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I believe that this is Paul McLennan’s first members’ business debate, so I congratulate him on choosing such an important topic and thank him for his commitment to being a mental health champion, which is a call to action to all of us to be champions of mental wellbeing. That brings me to the minister, who I welcome to his new role as the Minister for Mental Wellbeing and Social Care, which is an important job. I am sure that the minister is telling colleagues across the Government that they all have to be part of the solution.

Thinking about the pandemic and its impact on the workforce across social care and the NHS, I am concerned about levels of post-traumatic stress disorder among front-line staff and I worry about those on low pay and those unpaid carers, particularly women, who take on the greatest burden of the caring work. However, the minister is well placed to look at what has happened to older people and disabled people during the pandemic and to ensure that we address the isolation that many colleagues have acknowledged today. That is why Anne’s law is so important and relevant to mental health.

Colleagues have talked about the fact that we all have mental health issues and all have to be champions of mental health in this place. I continue to be concerned about what sometimes appear to be endless waiting times, the worrying statistics around rejected referrals and people speaking out and saying that they are not okay but are not sure where to turn. At the weekend, I was fortunate to meet local heroes from across Scotland who are doing their bit in their communities to show that kindness and provide that cup of tea and an open door to people.

However, we have to recognise that, despite all the good work and good effort from ministers and many across the public and private sectors, the system is still not quite right. We need to see system change, which is why I am passionate about supporting a constituent from my Central Scotland region, Karen McKeown, who has an excellent petition in front of the Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee. Members, including Tess White from the Conservatives, spoke strongly in support of the petition. We therefore have an opportunity to listen to people with lived experience who know the change that needs to happen.

I was pleased to hear many colleagues mention the construction industry in the mental health context, because as the continuing convener of the cross-party group on construction, I want us to look at that area. Paul McLennan and I will take away what members have said about it. I hope that the minister can come along to a future meeting of the group, as I know from his previous work in local government and building standards that he has a keen interest in that area.

I have a lot of empathy for people affected by alcohol and drug misuse, and I know how that intersects with mental health and wellbeing. When I was in my teens and early 20s, I had to reach out for help and had counselling. I worry about young people who have had to be at home during the pandemic and were not in school, but particularly when there was substance misuse in the home. I am keen to hear from the minister what more can be done to support those young people and their families.

Many stakeholders have sent briefings for the debate that have all made important points. In particular, Scotland’s Mental Health Partnership is looking for a radical refresh of the mental health strategy, which is why Karen McKeown’s petition is important.

I invite colleagues and anyone listening to join me, Clare Adamson MSP and others at Strathclyde country park on Sunday, where FAMS is hosting its “Let’s Walk and Talk About Mental Health” event, at which the minister would be welcome. That is a public way for us all to show that we are all human and all have mental health issues, and that if we continue to talk about that openly, we can address stigma and get the system changed.

I call the minister to respond to the debate on behalf of the Scottish Government.


The Minister for Mental Wellbeing and Social Care (Kevin Stewart)

I congratulate Paul McLennan on bringing this debate to the chamber, and I am pleased to close for the Government.

Before I get into responding to everything that has been said, I want to highlight two extremely important points that Mr McLennan made. The first is that we should be kind to each other. In this world, we are sometimes not. We do not know whether folk are okay, so we should think twice before we use harsh language and be as kind to each other as we possibly can. That said, I know that that is sometimes difficult to achieve in this chamber.

Secondly, I was struck by Paul McLennan’s comment that he would be a champion of mental health in the Parliament. I congratulate him on that, but I think that we all need to be champions of mental health each and every day.

It is important that we continue to mark world mental health day each year. I welcome the passion that has been shown across the chamber today, and I thank colleagues for sharing their personal stories and speaking so passionately on this topic. I am afraid to tell Ms Lennon that I cannot come to Strathclyde country park on Sunday, but I thank her for the invitation. Instead, I will be speaking at a mental health conference at St Mirren, which I am sure Mr Paisley—George Adam—will be happy to hear.

I commend the fantastic work of our NHS services, the third sector and their staff, who have continued to do an incredible job over the last year and a half. Since I have taken up this post, I have had the privilege of meeting many front-line staff and those with lived experience, and I will be doing more of the same this afternoon when I leave the chamber. I am very impressed by and grateful for the sheer resilience and dedication that those people have shown in this most trying of times.

That said, I know that some folk in the workforce are struggling. It is important that we recognise their needs, which is why the additional investment for the mental health and wellbeing hub and the other supports for staff that was announced earlier this week by Humza Yousaf and which Gillian Mackay mentioned is so important.

How does the minister intend to train more psychiatrists and recruit them into the NHS to relieve the pressure on staff?

Kevin Stewart

I thank Mr Hoy for that intervention. I remember that he talked about the workforce in his speech, which I thought was interesting. Indeed, I am more than happy to discuss workforce numbers with him.

Let me give members an idea of the workforce situation in Scotland. Since 2006, CAMHS staffing has gone up by 81 per cent and the psychology workforce by 110 per cent, with a 3.3 per cent increase over the past year. With regard to adult acute services, we have 56 whole-time equivalents per 100,000 here in Scotland versus the United Kingdom average of 40. I would therefore dispute some of the things about workforce that Mr Hoy said earlier.

On the issue of the workforce for the future, although we have seen that great increase in numbers, we all know that there is more to do. That is why workforce planning for the future is absolutely essential, and one of my key priorities is to ensure that we get that right as we move forward. The fact is that there has been an increase in the number of people presenting with mental health problems. We might look at that and think that that is a bad thing, but actually it is a good thing. For far too long, folks have kept things to themselves, and we need to encourage people to come forward for the help and treatment that is available.

I will go back to the point that I was going to make. The past year and a half has been tough for everyone in Scotland, and the impacts of the pandemic continue to bring significant challenge to our everyday lives. The pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing inequalities in our society, hitting some population groups disproportionately hard. In recognition of that, we published our transition and recovery plan last October, which set out a blueprint for improving mental health across the country. We need to continue to expand on that plan, because, as Gillian Mackay pointed out, we are missing some data. As Beatrice Wishart mentioned, there are some groups for which we are not getting the data that we need to shape the services that people require. LGBTI communities were mentioned, as were folks from ethnic minorities. We need to do more work there, and we will do so.

Stephen Kerr

I am grateful to the minister for giving way. Paul McLennan gave an excellent speech this afternoon. He highlighted the length of time that people have to wait for services. The minister is explaining that the pandemic has made the situation worse. We all hear many heartbreaking stories from our constituents. Therefore, what is his aspiration for waiting times for mental health support, particularly for young people?

Kevin Stewart

That was a rather long intervention, and Mr Kerr had the opportunity, like everyone else, to give a speech today but chose only to make interventions. That is quite surprising. My aspiration is to bring waiting times down as quickly as we possibly can. Health boards are putting together plans to ensure that waiting times come down. However, one of the key things that we need to do is to stop folk being referred in the first place, which means investment in services at community level—in schools and in GP surgeries. That is why the Government has resourced school counsellors, which is important; it is why we are moving forward in investing in mental health link workers in GP practices; and it is why we will soon make further announcements about community support. We will continue to look at the prevention agenda, because prevention is better than cure.

That is not to say that we will not continue to invest in child and adolescent mental health services and psychological therapy, too. We have already provided £45 million to health boards to focus on CAMHS improvement, to help to clear the waiting list. We are also providing funding for around 320 additional staff in CAMHS over the next five years. We want to build on the innovative changes that have been made to services, some of which has happened during the pandemic.

As Emma Harper said, we want to ensure that we can continue to invest in things such as cognitive behavioural therapy, which is very important to some folk. Our £15 million investment in children and young people’s community wellbeing this year has delivered more than 200 new and enhanced services. I look forward to sharing details of equivalent support for adults.

This week is challenge poverty week, and it is important to recognise that poverty is the single biggest driver of poor mental health, as Audrey Nicoll said. I will continue to say that because it is the reality. Therefore, we will continue to strengthen the alignment of mental health policy with work to tackle poverty and reduce inequality.

Minister, please bring your remarks to a close.

Kevin Stewart

I have highlighted some of the Government’s work, some of which is cross-Government work. However, we all have a part to play in reducing inequalities and stigma and ensuring that the right help is available in the right place at the right time. I would again like to thank Paul McLennan for securing today’s debate. Like him, I hope that everyone in the chamber will become a mental health champion.

Thank you, minister. That concludes this—

Stephen Kerr

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. The minister, somewhat incongruously, started off by talking about how we should be nice to one another and then made a comment about my contribution to the debate. Can you confirm that it is absolutely in order for a member to attend a debate and to attempt to make interventions and that it is entirely up to the speakers whether to take interventions?

The Deputy Presiding Officer

First, I am not responsible for what members, including ministers, say in their contributions. Secondly, it is indeed up to members whether they take interventions and whether they wish to put themselves forward to speak. That is clear from the rules.

If that deals with the matter, I now suspend proceedings until 2.30 this afternoon.

13:35 Meeting suspended.  

14:30 On resuming—