The last 12 months have brought a wide range of problems and hardships for pretty much everyone on the planet, and the lasting effects will not be fully understood for some time. For those lucky enough not to have been directly affected by the virus itself, there are still huge practical and financial worries as well as the significant upheavals to daily life. Almost from the outset there was widespread discourse on mental health and the emotional impact of lockdown restrictions, including in this previous blog: Protecting your mental health whilst working from home.
A lot of that discourse has focused on finding a way through the ongoing crisis, but what happens when lockdown restrictions have eased or ceased completely, businesses re-open and life goes back to some kind of normality? It is very unlikely that the emotional effects of such a long unsettled period will just disappear. Those who lost their jobs or their homes, missed out on education or lost loved ones can’t just go back to normal, and without a plan to treat not only the practical issues they have faced but the toll on their mental health too, they will continue to suffer.
The Mental Health Foundation Scotland has launched a manifesto setting out its proposals for a “Mental Health Guarantee” to be introduced by the Scottish Government. The Guarantee acknowledges the strain on NHS mental health services and suggests an increase in community support services and quick referrals to those services, as well as promoting a shift from “firefighting” mental health issues as they arise, to prevention. This will include a focus on supporting school pupils to discuss and understand mental health issues, and an action plan to deal with the increasing suicide rate.
The Guarantee also makes proposals to tackle the sources of poor mental health generally, not just in relation to the pandemic, such as poverty, homelessness and job insecurity. All of these have been endemic in Scottish society for decades. These and other issues affecting the nation’s mental health have been pulled more sharply into focus over the past year, including social isolation and a lack of access to green or open spaces. The recent surge in buyers looking for properties in rural areas illustrates the realisation that access to natural landscapes is hugely important in day to day life.
The Scottish Government has set a budget for a “Mental Health Recovery and Renewal Fund” mostly addressing the current lack of adequate access to mental health support services across the NHS. Although an election is only weeks away it would be encouraging to see more detail from the Government on how it aims to tackle a potential mental health crisis in the years to come, not just in the context of NHS waiting times but in terms of the pre-lockdown problems mentioned above and the life-changing events many have faced during 2020.
There is a chance for significant societal change as we slowly exit lockdown and begin to navigate our way back into the wider world. There have been failures and errors of judgement by all UK nation states’ leaders since March 2020, but a strong and detailed plan to support individuals now can prevent mental health becoming just another issue which wasn’t handled properly.
Blog by Shona Cocksedge, Solicitor