National Rural Mental Health Forum Parliamentary Reception, 2 October 18

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Mental Health Minister Clare Haughey hailed Scotland’s National Rural Mental Health Forum as “a platform for change” at a successful Parliamentary Reception.

The Holyrood reception on 2 October was hosted by Gail Ross MSP and aimed to raise awareness of mental health issues in rural Scotland as well as giving Forum members a chance to meet and make connections.

 The Forum is supported by the Scottish Government, administered by Support in Mind Scotland, and is a key component in the Scottish Government’s Mental Health Strategy.

 Since its creation in 2016, the Forum has grown from a membership of 16 organisations to 60 today, pulling from across the third sector, the public sector and the private sector. All share a common goal: of raising awareness of mental health issues through their networks, furthering research, informing policy and building community resilience.

Gail Ross MSP opened conversations by giving an impassioned introduction to the work of the Forum and the night’s speakers.

She then made way for the Minister for Mental Health Clare Haughey MSP to take the floor.

 “It is great to see so many people here from so many different organisations.”

 The minister, although still fairly new in post having taken on the role in June 2018, has substantial experience as a mental health nurse, and mental health is something she feels very strongly about.

 “I am delighted to have the opportunity to make a real positive difference to people’s lives. I know that is the same for all of you here.”

She explained how the Forum is a platform for change, working together to provide solutions for those people in rural areas who may be finding life difficult. She highlighted the key issue of isolation and how the Forum’s development of connections between communities across rural Scotland will help isolated people can receive the support when and where they need it.

“We discussed the Action Plan of the Forum and I am greatly encouraged by the ambition shown. If all of those outcomes are achieved, then there is no doubt that the Forum will improve the mental wellbeing of rural communities.”

Support in Mind Scotland CEO Frances Simpson then addressed the room, giving a bit of background as to why rural issues are so important to our organisation, and how deep-rooted they are to our causes.

“80% of the people we support live in rural Scotland – Highlands, D&G, Tayside and Fife; and we support between 1300 and 1500 people a week.”

Frances explained that it was in 2015 that Support in Mind Scotland realised as an organisation, there was a need to expand our knowledge of what the landscape of rural mental health looked like. This was due to being challenged by Professor Sarah Skerrat of SRUC to explain mental health in remote and rural communities and specifically how local planning took mental health into account – “where did Mental health fit when considering how to allocate precious and shrinking health resources?”. This was an especially important question, given that in remote and rural areas particularly, people with mental health problems are far less likely to speak about mental health.  

“But, how can we understand early intervention and prevention if people don’t speak up?”. And so our first survey was created.

This survey confirmed some things that we knew – but it was ground-breaking in that participants had responded from every rural authority; the respondents were not known to our services, most were in work; and there was a good response from young people under 24 years old.

The main themes were; stigma – and how difficult it was anyway to speak up, but even more difficult in a community where everyone knew everyone else; poor transport links; diminishing community resources and services; feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Frances explained: “Interestingly the people who felt more isolated were not necessarily those living in the most remote areas according to the government definitions”

The findings of this survey are now reported in our report, Well Connected Communities, which conveyed the importance of connecting people to people and people to their communities. This brought forth the Forums three goals, which are:

  1. A much-improved understanding of the need and unmet need for mental health support in rural Scotland;

  2. Evidence of how to overcome barriers to accessing and seeking support, therefore enhancing people’s mental wellbeing in rural Scotland;

  3. Better-informed rural and health policy with specific evidence and support from the Forum members. 

The Forum’s convenor, Jim Hume then took the floor for the evening’s final speech, explaining that evidence found by Scotland’s Rural College and Support in Mind Scotland, shows living with mental ill health isn’t necessarily worse in rural areas, but it is different - different in that the lack of anonymity in rural can mean that an individual may find it more difficult to seek help at an early stage.

“Early intervention can prevent a situation becoming worse and the research was clear that people wish to be supported within their communities.”

He went on to highlight the work of some of the Forum’s members: The Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland, hosting Forum meetings at their annual four day Highland Show so that the Forum could engage with its 190,000 attendees; the Samaritans, who recognised that they had issues in rural areas – difficulties recruiting volunteers in rural areas, incorrect perceptions that if someone called for help then it may be someone local they know, and their enthusiasm to work with the Forum to resolve these issues; the Forum has participated in the Health Improvement Scotland workshops of the Scottish Patient Safety Programme from the Borders to the Black Isle and look forward to bringing forward a rural perspective to their work going forward.

Jim then went on to note some unlikely participants, such as Scottish Government’s Social Security Directorate who use the Forum to inform their stakeholder groups for the new powers about to be delivered in Scotland. “We look forward to a system that accounts for those experiencing mental ill health and those from rural communities.”

Jim concluded by explaining that the diversity of the Form and its members is key: “it is not just the job of Government and NHS - we can all do our bit for addressing mental health and wellbeing and I believe this Forum is living proof of a will to do just that and a network that is in a good place to deliver.”

The evening hopefully conveyed the message that no one organisation can achieve mentally healthy communities alone – we have to work together, bringing people with personal experience, trusted organisations with experience in and understanding of both mental health and rural issues, and bodies with resources and authority so that we can truly drive forward change.

The Forum will continue into 2019, challenging stigma and encouraging people to feel able to ask for help in rural Scotland. It will continue to inform policy, support community activity through facilitating partnerships and connections, and importantly will continue to share the knowledge, experience, and good practice that each of its members brings.