Policy briefing

Scotland's new mental health strategy

Read our policy briefing on the Scottish government's new ten-year mental health strategy.

Read our policy briefing on the Scottish government's new ten-year mental health strategy


About 15% of the Scottish population has a diagnosable mental health condition. Picture: Jim Varney

Essential facts

An extra 800 mental health professionals will be placed in emergency departments, GP practices, prisons and police departments in Scotland. The pledge, which does not set out what type of staff they will be, is part of the Scottish government's mental health strategy for the next ten years. 

The document also promises to increase access to early intervention services and review counselling services in schools to ensure that pupils receive timely support. The strategy has steps to improve delivery of child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), including an audit to look at concerns over rejected referrals, and action taken as a result.

It commits to testing and evaluating sustainable models of supporting mental health in primary care and funding a clinical network to improve the recognition and treatment of perinatal mental health problems. 

About 15% of the Scottish population has a diagnosable mental health condition, according to research. The Scottish government, which estimates two thirds of people who would benefit from treatment for a mental illness are not being currently supported, has announced £35million to increase the mental health workforce. This is on top of £150millon over five years announced in 2016.

A review of mental health services published by the Scottish government in 2016 suggested that services had mainly improved over the past decade. But there were many areas were further improvement was needed, including access to support for particularly vulnerable groups such as asylum seekers, the homeless and carers, self-harm prevention, suicide prevention and the mortality gaps experienced by people with long term mental health conditions.  

The strategy has been criticised by charities for lacking detail. The Scottish Association for Mental Health said it 'lacks the ambition and investment that Scotland deserves, especially for children and young people'. 

The charity says more than 17,000 children and young people were turned away from CAMHS in the last three years. The audit into rejected referrals should report within 18 months, the organisation said.

Implications for nurses

Prevention and early intervention of all mental health problems and timely access to support are emphasised in the strategy. The document challenges the NHS to prioritise the physical health of people with mental health problems and remove barriers to people accessing services. 

Differences in ethnicity, sexuality, or gender identity should not be barriers to receiving high quality services to treat mental health problems, the document stresses. People with mental health problems often experience longer waits in emergency departments and out of hours services. 

The strategy also commits to tackling early deaths. People with severe and enduring mental illness can die 15-20 years earlier because of co-occurring but treatable issues, such as physical health problems and addictions. 

Expert comment
 Alistair Grant, a mental health nurse and nurse coordinator at NHS Grampian

'It is great that we have a strategy for the next ten years that puts the focus purely on mental health. It is fundamentally about holistic care, about saying we should be looking at people's mental and physical health, lifestyle and well-being.

'While I support a lot of what the strategy says, such as tackling stigma and calling for more mental health staff in GP surgeries, schools, emergency departments and police stations, it doesn't go into a lot of detail.

'I would have liked more clarity on how it will happen, particularly with the 800 extra staff. It doesn't set out what kind of training these staff will have. I would be absolutely delighted if it was 800 nurses. Many employers have vacancies for mental health nurses, and some of these are difficult to recruit to due to the shortage of nurses.'


Further information

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