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Chamber and committees

Public Petitions Committee

Meeting date: Thursday, October 8, 2020

Agenda: New Petitions, Continued Petitions, Mental Health Support for Young People


Mental Health Support for Young People

The Convener

Item 3 is consideration of the Scottish Government’s response to the committee’s report on its inquiry into mental health support for children and young people in Scotland. The response, which was provided by the Minister for Mental Health, Clare Haughey, outlines actions that the Scottish Government is taking to address the issues of mental health support for children and young people, and is summarised in our clerk’s note.

We have received a response to the minister’s letter from Annette McKenzie. Members will be aware that it was during consideration of evidence that we received in relation to Ms McKenzie’s petition that the committee agreed to undertake the inquiry. In her submission, Ms McKenzie expresses her disappointment with the minister’s response; she believes that insufficient action has been taken to support young people and families. We thank Annette McKenzie for her response. We are conscious of how difficult it is and continues to be for her, and her plea is that we recognise how serious the situation is for young people. She says that those problems were there pre-Covid and that they continue. I know that, in the local community, there are on-going concerns about suicide and how troubled some young people are. We are very conscious of the seriousness of those issues.

I welcome comments from members on the response from the minister.


David Torrance

I also thank the petitioner for bringing the petition to the committee and I thank everybody involved with it, including the clerks, because a huge amount of work has gone into it. We have to note the minister’s response, but I would definitely like us to get some parliamentary time to debate the issue, so that we could get some proper answers.

Maurice Corry

I agree with what David Torrance said. It is an important issue and, as you know, you and I went around the country to various meetings and listened to young people in different circumstances and different geographical areas, and I came back thinking, “Gosh, we need to do something about this.” Clearly, as life goes on with the Covid experience—goodness knows what the outcome of that will be for young people—the mental health issue has to be flying at the top of the tree. Young people are the future generation and any support that we can give them would be super, and I am grateful for what the petitioner has said and for bringing it to our attention. A lot more needs to be done to make the Scottish Government aware of the issue so I, too, would seek that this goes in the parliamentary business programme for a debate on the issues raised in the inquiry. Although I note the Minister for Mental Health’s response to the committee report, this is an important issue, I am deeply moved by it and would like to see it progressed.

Gail Ross

I start by addressing the petitioner directly. I was struck by her response to the Scottish Government’s response. I say to her that she has not failed and that she has been extremely brave. She has started a conversation here; we have spoken to so many people, including young people themselves, and the petitioner should be very proud of herself, because the whole inquiry has brought things out into the open that need to be spoken about, and we are now doing that.

I agree with the petitioner that the answer that we got from the minister should not just have come about because we are in the middle of a pandemic—important though that is and will be to people’s on-going mental health, especially young people’s mental health. This would have been happening if the pandemic had not happened, so we need to look at it in that context. A response to the issue should be on-going, health pandemic or no health pandemic.

As the minister pointed out, a lot of work is being done. Current problems have focused minds and mental health has been brought to the fore of many situations, in some cases unfortunately because people have taken their own lives, and we are left asking why and what could have been done to prevent it and, more importantly, what can be done to prevent it from happening again.

I note the response and I note that things are happening in that regard across all sectors of society, in education and in the workplace. I think that, as a society, we could be a lot kinder to each other in recognising, when somebody has an issue but does not want to come forward for whatever reason. A lot of this stuff will take time to bed in and have any real outcomes, but in a lot of situations we do not have that time, so it has been a really difficult issue to get a grip on.

We need to be pushing as much as we can for a full debate in the chamber of the Scottish Parliament. I agree with my fellow members on that. I thank the petitioner very much for bringing this to us and I hope that she is comforted by the fact that this is now being discussed in an open forum and in a serious way.

Thank you. I think that Gail Ross speaks for all of us; it has been very powerful.

Tom Mason

I endorse everything that Gail Ross has said. The petitioner has been very brave and should be congratulated on her tenacity in keeping this going. We must be putting young people through incredible dilemmas and pressures with everything that has been going on in the past period. As a pensioner for some years, although I am still keeping going, I look at what young people experience compared with what I experienced when I was their age and I think that we had it soft; we benefited greatly from everything—in fact, in some ways, I feel quite guilty about the situation.

At the very least, we can make sure that we listen to young people where necessary, and a debate would be a great way of trying to tease out some further details and to get people to take ownership of the mental health issues of young people. I think that a debate would be a great idea, if we could get that to happen.

The Convener

Thank you for that. I agree with everything that has been said. I think that the point about the pressure on young people is absolutely right. It predates the pandemic, but the pandemic has brought everything under the most intense glare, whether it is pressure on young people in schools, the fact that they are not guaranteed work, the fact that, all of a sudden, the jobs with which young people sustain themselves while studying are the very jobs that are disappearing, or the level of uncertainty and fear for older family members and what might be happening to them. I think that everything is intense just now.

My feeling about the ministerial response is that it did not engage with quite a lot of the recommendations that we made; there were general statements about what the aspiration of Government policy is. I absolutely do not doubt in any way the sincerity of the minister in her response, but a parliamentary debate would afford us an opportunity to raise those specific recommendations and ask for a response to them.

There is the whole question of having not just counsellors but training for staff and for young people, having a shared language to talk about how people feel and having a sense that the whole school community has a responsibility. Also, and I thought that this was a weakness in the response, there is the question of what we expect from employers, particularly those that are taking on apprentices and new trainees. A lot of employers would be happy to engage with us, but they may need support to know what they should be doing and how they can direct people if they are experiencing pressures, concerns, anxiety or distress.

We are all recognising the importance of the whole issue—the inquiry makes that clear—but a debate would allow us the opportunity to press on some of the specific recommendations that have not been addressed and we will be able to return to this as a committee once that debate has taken place.

Unless anybody wants to add anything further, I think that we are in agreement that that is what we will be seeking and we will be able to give notice of when that debate might be when that has been decided. I thank the petitioner for her continued persistence and her tenacity, which is a word that another committee member used, and I recognise just how difficult it continues to be; we are thinking of her.

With that, I thank the committee members, clerks and the broadcasting team for allowing this committee meeting to happen. I will now close the meeting.

Meeting closed at 11:24.