SAMH’s hustings in Dundee last month featured Shona Robison from the Scottish National Party, Jenny Marra from Scottish Labour, Maggie Chapman from the Scottish Greens, Alex Johnstone from the Scottish Conservatives and Mike Rumbles from the Scottish Liberal Democrats. It was chaired by the Courier’s Political Editor, Kieran Andrews.

Our manifesto Ask Once, Get Help Fast is grounded in the experiences of people with poor mental health across Scotland. We spent the year before the election researching the issues and talking to 700 individuals with lived experience. This led directly to recommendations on access to support, employment, crisis and suicide prevention, and children and young people.

Most of our packed audience were new to us, although it was great to see some Dundee colleagues and service users too. They came from local social enterprises and third sector organisations, the NHS, colleges and universities. In attendance were service users and carers, all passionate about mental health and how it affected their work and their lives. A quarter of the audience were students and young people – it was fantastic to see such engagement.

We left Dundee buzzing about how people had taken time out of their lives to attend our hustings

We had questions on accessing primary care and ensuring appropriate support for people in crisis. Local issues were front of mind for most, including: the potential closure of an acute psychiatric unit in Angus and whether there had been adequate consultation on the issue; the reduction in funding for counsellors at Abertay University, and moving into work after being unwell.

Local matters mean big questions for the next Government; for example:

  • the balance between health and social care funding
  • the need for preventative spending
  • the impact of being unwell on an individual’s ability to learn, to work, to participate in society
  • and the need for a socially just response.

Younger members of the audience wanted to know how to ask for help and get taken seriously if they weren’t actively suicidal, and whether there was enough support in place for young people who were severely unwell. One young person described the persisting stigma against mental health shown in the lack of services available, claiming – rightly – that A&E was no place for a young person in crisis. It hit home with the candidates.

The final question challenged whether austerity had led to an increase in poor mental health. It stuck at the heart of whether the decisions of government help or harm people who are already vulnerable. Can we move from rhetoric to reality and become a more socially just society? Time will tell.

We left Dundee buzzing about how people had taken time out of their lives to attend our hustings, at their bravery and passion, and pleased by the commitments from all parties to promote wellbeing and improve mental health support. There was a real appetite in the room for making long term changes.

SAMH has been delighted by the prominence of mental health in all the parties’ manifestos, echoing many of our recommendations for change. The election is almost upon us, and while the poor politicians may be hoping for a breather, our campaigning will continue to ensure that mental health stays on everyone’s agenda.

Rachel Stewart, Senior Public Affairs Officer, SAMH.