28 October 2014

S4M-11065 World Mental Health Day

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-11065, in the name of Linda Fabiani, on world mental health day. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes that 10 October 2014 is World Mental Health Day; welcomes this day of global mental health education, awareness and advocacy; understands that World Mental Health Day 2014 shines the spotlight on schizophrenia and that one in 100 people have schizophrenia; welcomes the work of Support in Mind Scotland, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, and its upcoming 1 in 100 campaign, which is to be launched in October; understands that this work takes place 10 years on from the first Scottish review of schizophrenia care and treatment; is concerned that nine out of 10 people with schizophrenia cannot get employment and experience discrimination and stigma; is further concerned that people with schizophrenia face shorter life expectancies by 15 to 20 years on average compared with the general population; understands that early intervention boosts the life chances of people with schizophrenia and welcomes the work of charities and other stakeholders right across Scotland in supporting the one in 100 Scots living with schizophrenia, including Support in Mind Scotland, and congratulates the volunteers in its East Kilbride support group, which has been working locally for 36 years.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I, too, thank Linda Fabiani. Let us make the debate personal: statistically, every one of us here has a 50:50 chance that at some time in their life someone with whom they have a direct one-to-one familial relationship will suffer mental ill health. That relates to two parents, a partner and a single offspring, which is statistically what we have as relationships, so the issues will be close to home.

I have discovered only in the past year, for example, that one of my mother’s aunts lived most of her life locked away in the asylum in Lochgilphead. She was never spoken about; I never knew that she existed until I did family research. That was the past and that was the stigma—it happened and it simply was not talked about.

In 1964, as a 17-year-old and before going to university, I very much enjoyed working for six or seven months as a nurse in a psychiatric hospital. That was a time when the treatment of one who was seriously mentally ill was to be locked in a ward and forgotten about. Staffing levels were appallingly poor. The world today is very different; let us hope that that is a good thing.

I will talk about a few matters. The first is awareness. What does mental illness mean for the sufferer? Not all people who suffer from mental ill health are self-aware that they have a problem. We cannot do much about that, but what we—the family and everyone else—can do by being aware of that person’s needs is be there to support them when they need that, catch them when they fall and lift them back up.

We need health treatment for people with mental ill health. We are increasing investment in mental health, which is welcome, albeit—as Mary Scanlon correctly highlighted—that it is the poor relation financially and, more critically, as a chosen specialism for people with medical training. That is more critical than money because, if we do not have the people with the skills, we cannot spend the money to help the people who need help.

We all have to be careful about the social interactions that we have with people who have different degrees of mental ill health. However, let us put a positive spin on the issue. Having a different mental approach, although it creates a huge burden for people, can deliver benefit. I will highlight the careers of three famous schizophrenics. Vincent van Gogh died at the age of 37. It is thought that he died because he shot himself. This is not the time to explore why there is doubt about that, but he produced the most wonderful impressionistic art. There is little doubt that how his brain and mind worked contributed to that. He paid a huge price for that, but he delivered a great deal for us, which we remember to this day.

Clara Bow—the it girl and one of the first stars in the silent cinema, who continued into the era of the talkies—suffered from schizophrenia for her entire life but contributed enormously to the experience and enjoyment of others. Nijinsky, the great dancer, was schizophrenic and, as with Clara Bow, he died relatively early at the age of 60. Many of those famous sufferers were in the artistic rather than the scientific or other domains, but one could speak about many others. Let us remember that people with mental illness can make a huge contribution, which is sometimes aided by the fact of their illness.

We talk about stress in modern society. Stress is good in pushing us forward, as long as we can deal with it but, in the complex world in which we live, too many people are overloaded, so that stress becomes distress and leads to mental ill health. Each and every one of us should be watching for that to happen.

An outcome of mental ill health for some people is suicide. Unfortunately, I have been close to three people who committed suicide. One did so—at the age of 18, I may say—because of a chemical imbalance arising from a physical condition. Another threw herself off a high building while suffering from post-natal depression. As for the third person, to this day we do not know why the suicide took place. There was no sign of it coming—it is a mystery, wrapped in an enigma.

As individuals, we all have a duty to help people with mental ill health and guide them to treatment. As parliamentarians, we must ensure that we provide the resources to help them.


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