SCOTLAND’S most senior civil servant has been commended for speaking about her personal experience of mental health problems.
Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans said she had worked through “several tough and very stressful episodes” in the past, and had seen a health professional at one point.
She shared the information with Scottish Government staff in a personal blog in July, and yesterday made it available publicly on the government’s website.
She said she wanted to help stamp out the stigma surrounding mental ill-health.
Ms Evans had been a low-key figure since being appointed Permanent Secretary in 2015.
But she was thrown into the public spotlight last month when it emerged she had investigated sexual misconduct allegations against Alex Salmond, and the former First Minister launched a legal action against her handling of the case.
Ms Evans did not identify her particular mental health experiences, but they are understood to predate her time in the civil service.
Nicola Sturgeon this week announced an extra £250m for mental health services, particularly those required by young people.
In her “Catch up with Perm Sec” blog on 2 July, Ms Evans included a section on mental health which stressed the importance of good mental health and wellbeing at work.
She wrote: “Last week I took part in an open and frank session at Victoria Quay [the government office in Edinburgh] which reflected on our mental health experiences as individuals, how this informs the culture of our organisation, and where we need to improve mental health and wellbeing support.
“Like many people I have worked my way through several tough and very stressful episodes. What helped me was the support of my line manager, on one occasion seeing a health professional, and the continuing support of my friends and family.
“We all have a role to play in stamping out stigma surrounding mental health and improving our workplace culture.”
Calum Irving, director of See Me, the Scottish campaign to end mental health stigma and discrimination, said: “I was fortunate to hear Leslie speak very passionately about mental health at work and to share her own experience. It is a very challenging thing to do but can have a profound effect, especially coming from people in leadership positions.
“Workplace discrimination because of mental ill health is sadly still commonplace and it prevents people from being treated equally. So concerted action from senior leaders is very much needed, to ensure that we can all live fulfilled lives.”
In recent years, a series of politicians and public figures, including MPs and Prince Harry, have spoken about their experience of mental health.
But Scottish LibDem health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said it was rare for officials to do likewise.
He said: “This is very brave of Leslie and hopefully will give courage to others to come forward and talk about things they might have been going through.
“We often think of the civil service as quite severe and dry place to work. It’s really significant that the most senior civil servant in the land has paved the way for this traditionally quite conservative profession to open up about mental health and I commend her for it.”
Ms Evans is being taken to court by Mr Salmond over her handling of two complaints made against him in January which relate to his time as first minister in 2013.
He is challenging the investigatory process through a judicial review at the Court of Session, drawing on a £100,000 war chest funded by a controversial online appeal.
Ms Evans also referred to Mr Salmond’s case in her blog of 27 August.
She said: “You will appreciate that for legal reasons I am unable to say anything further at this point, but I can assure you that the Scottish Government will defend its position vigorously. I shall update you as and when I can.
“In line with work already underway to tackle inappropriate behaviour, and in consultation with our trade unions, we are carefully considering any issues about culture and working practices.”