Scottish Liberal Democrat leader has said the Scottish Government’s performance on aspects of mental health is “truly terrible” as waiting times are the worst on record.
Willie Rennie said instead of improving as promised, “performance continues to decline”.
Official figures published last week showed 71.1% of youngsters has an appointment with Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (Cahms) within the 18-week government target – although the statistics from both NHS Tayside and NHS Borders were incomplete.
The figures, which cover the last three months of 2017, were the worst performance against the 18-week target since it was introduced in 2014.
Speaking at First Minister’s Questions, Mr Rennie said: “Last year the Mental Health Minister said performance on children’s mental health waiting times was encouraging.
“But only a year later, the performance is at an all-time low. Children have never waited longer since the targets began.”
He said the number of people taking their own lives in Scotland has increased and is at two people a day.
He added: “All of this is truly terrible. Why is it that people have to wait whilst this government gets its act together?”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the long term trend in suicide is downwards and the government is working closely with health boards to improve performance on child mental health.
She said the average Cahms wait time across Scotland is 10 weeks, adding: “There is a great deal of very hard and good work being done to improve services for those who need mental health treatment.”
Tayside and Fife have seen a rise in emergency callouts for people experiencing a mental health crisis.
The Scottish Ambulance Service attended 1,588 incidents in 2017 where the main issue was a psychiatric problem — the highest number in 10 years.
In comparison, the previous year had seen a total of 1,284 such incidents, with the average number between 2009 and 2016 being just over 1,300.
Wendy Callander, executive director of Dundee Association for Mental Health, said: “It is not a good thing that an ambulance is needed in the first place, but it is good that people are calling for help.
“For me, the logical explanation for the increase is that there is better awareness of mental health now and people are more likely to seek help.
“People are now calling for help for issues they previously wouldn’t have sought help for.”
In Dundee, there were 310 callouts in 2017, with 175 recorded in Angus, 214 in Perth and Kinross and 889 in Fife. In 2018 so far, there have been 118 incidents across the whole region.
A Scottish Ambulance Service spokesman said: “Mental health-related incidents are identified during the triage process where our ambulance control centre staff will follow a process which identifies any immediately life-threatening illness or injuries, before seeking to identify other health issues.
“The incident would be recorded under the primary health problem given (reason for the call). The category we use on this occasion is ‘psychiatric’.”
Suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK – 84 take their own lives every week. A new campaign, Project84, aims to raise awareness and sees sculptures placed on the top of a London tower block.
“People say the wounds heal but you still have the scars,” says Jonny Sharples, whose elder brother Simon, 36, took his own life in 2014.
“I remember when it happened. I was at home on my own watching a rerun of Match of the Day and I got a phone call from my sister.
“I was in tears. I went down to see her in Staines, where she lives, and then we saw my parents in Cornwall. It was Christmas, which made it more difficult.
“Simon adored Christmas, even in his thirties he would get up at five in the morning and wake everyone else up to open presents.
“It was difficult to be together [after his death], to look around a room and see he was absent.”
Jonny is helping to remember his brother through the Project84 campaign, set up by the charity CALM.
Eighty-four sculptures have been erected on top of London Television Centre, with each figure representing one of the men, each week on average, who ends their life.
The campaign aims to raise awareness about the prevalence and devastating impact of male suicide in the UK. And the fact that mental health issues affect people from all sections of society.
Jonny says of his brother: “He was a normal, level-headed and unremarkable in many respects. But to anyone who knew him he was a really special person. He was always smiling and making you laugh.
“He’d always give you an honest answer, would always give you a helping hand.”
Away from friends and family, though, Simon – a father of one – was suffering. A year of upheaval saw him change jobs and move out of his Preston home. In December 2014 he took his own life.
“It’s only with the benefit of hindsight you knew he wasn’t quite himself,” Jonny says.
“When he was watching football or playing golf, doing the things he loved, he was distracted. He was not quite as smiley but was still enjoying himself.
“It’s only with the knowledge that he did end up taking his own life that things fall into place. His death was maybe the missing piece of the jigsaw.”
Marcus Chapman was 33 when his best friend Nelson Pratt, from Hampshire, and also 33, took his own life.
The two met on a snowboarding course in France and, after just a week, decided to move in together.
“Nelson was very old fashioned British gent, impeccably polite, moral and well-mannered but also incredibly talented,” says Marcus. “He was very self-deprecating. He had the chance to be arrogant but chose to be the opposite.”
Nelson had a successful snowboarding career and became a coach for some of Britain’s Olympic riders.
He had a supportive and loving family, but as his friends began to settle down and have children he found himself conflicted.
“The stage of life he was at, a lot of us were settling down, getting married and having families and I think Nelson had a lot of different pressures,” says Marcus.
“Balancing his snowboarding career with jobs back in the UK. There was definitely a bit of a wrestle there.”
Nelson sought help, however, Marcus feels he was “let down”.
“Nelson went to see his GP, there was a waiting list for therapy and he was given an online course to do. Two days later he took his own life.”
The experiences of men who take their own lives vary, but those left behind are unified on how society should prevent their stories recurring.
They say stigmas and stereotypes need to be abandoned and avenues for support must be opened up.
“The myth is that someone who takes their own life is weak,” says Jonny. “I don’t think for a moment my brother was a weak person. I think he was very strong.
“We need to create a society where men are comfortable to talk about how they are feeling in the knowledge that the person they are speaking to will offer them the best help and solutions they can.”
Marcus adds: “It’s about having those very early conversations, sometimes close family members are the hardest people to talk to. That’s why things like the CALM helpline are so important.
Amy told the Kaye Adams Programme that her family had endured the “toughest eight months” since her brother’s death.
“He was struggling with his mental health but the shocking thing that we found was that he seemed fine,” she said.
“I know it sounds silly and trivial but in the last days before he died – I was the last person to see him – he was so happy.
“He had a niece and a nephew, my two children, and he was playing with them at the park, talking about plans to go to university and things.
“There was really no indication that that was the time it was going to happen. There were times we were more concerned about him, than when he did it.”
She said he had been to his GP shortly before he died and he was attending mental health services.
“The shocking thing about when it happened was that he was being treated and he was at his GP 10 days before he died, getting more anti-depressants,” she said.
Amy said he brother’s death was having a knock-on effect on the mental health of the rest of her family.
“My dad found my brother and he now obviously really struggles with that, he’s struggling with his own mental health.
“His GP’s reply to that is go to all the charities out there. He’s not even putting him on a waiting list for counselling or anything like that.
“I myself have started counselling from a local charity. I have the personality to go out there and do that. My brother wouldn’t have done that. I feel that my dad is a bit of history repeating itself.”
The family have been left alone to pick up the pieces of her brother’s suicide, she said.
“And it’s at that point where you feel your whole life is completely shattered and you don’t feel able to put one foot in front of the other, never mind help yourself to get the help that you need,” she added.
Mental health education
“So you’re just completely left – I felt anyway, through our own experience – that you’re just left to it by the police, by the GP.
“We had a family liaison officer from police who did nothing, to be honest. She said she had a list of phone numbers for us and she didn’t even give us those phone numbers.
“I just felt we were left to it as a family. I’m very lucky that I have such a supportive and fantastic family but it’s really been a struggle.”
Amy said she feels there is still a stigma surrounding mental health problems and suicide.
“I have had people saying, yeah he was depressed but why did he kill himself? Why did he go that far, why?
“They keep asking me why and I feel that’s down to not being educated about depression and about mental health, and also the stigma that surrounds it.
“The very fact that we’re saying people are choosing to die, I know it’s very complex, but a lot of people don’t choose to die. They have no choice left – it’s their only option.”
She said she feels some people think there should be some kind of “Hollywood ending” – they ask if there was a suicide note and whether there was a big thing that he was trying to get away from.
“I just tell them he was not very well and he died. He was killed by depression,” she said.
If you or someone you know has been affected by mental health problems, these organisations may be able to help.
Suicide is one of the leading causes of death among men in Britain – and yet it is rarely talked about by the country’s leaders.
Every two hours a man in the UK takes his own life – that’s 84 every week, largely unseen, other than by the family and friends they leave behind.
But it would be difficult to walk past the 84 sculptures standing on top of the This Morning studios and ITV’s headquarters on London’s South Bank without noticing.
They are part of a campaign by CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) to start a conversation about male suicide in a bid for improved suicide prevention and bereavement support.
Each represents a man who took their own life and their family and friends worked with American artist, Mark Jenkins, and his collaborator Sandra Fernandez to create each figure.
On the project’s website are the names and details of each of the men, with stories told by those close to them.
They are from different backgrounds, of different ages and races, but what many of them have in common is that they tried to keep their struggles from those close to them.
As one daughter says of her father: “He hid it all too well”.
The sculptures were unveiled on Monday, as CALM’s chief executive Simon Gunning said the support organisation “has been campaigning and providing support services for 11 years but, try as we might, it isn’t enough to tackle the enormous problem of male suicide”.
He said: “Project 84 is all about making the scale of the situation very clear to everyone who sees the sculptures, and we hope that, by working with the families and friends of real men who have taken their lives, we can face the enormous issue of suicide together and strive for change.”
The petition, started by Matthew Smith, who lost his brother to suicide, has more than 103,000 signatures.
On Twitter, the project was described as “bold”, “hard-hitting” and “powerful”, but some said it was too much.
Clare Whitby wrote on Twitter: “Powerful and necessary campaign but the image is too close home for me, and many others I’m sure. Difficult, because I wholeheartedly believe in the campaign itself.”
Ollie DG wrote: “It’s great for the awareness but it is a little dark and haunting.”
Mr Gunning said: “With Project 84, we wanted to make the scale of the situation very clear to everyone that sees the sculptures.
“By working with the families and friends of men who have taken their own lives to highlight individual stories, we hope to make the impersonal thoroughly personal.”
:: If you feel suicidal or vulnerable, if you’re worried that someone you know may be feeling suicidal or if you need support after losing a loved one to suicide, go to CALM for advice, support lines and webchat.
You can also contact the Samaritans or call 116 123. In the US call the Samaritans branch in your area or 1 (800) 273-TALK.