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Our Man in Holyrood: It is clear that more needs to be done regarding mental health services and the pressure NHS Highland are under in the region

By Andrew Dixon

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MSP Fergus Ewing.
MSP Fergus Ewing.

MSP Fergus Ewing says he is 'acutely aware' of the dangers of mental health on the people of the Highlands

Over the last year it’s hard to not think of someone who hasn’t been affected by the lockdown measures that were taken to save lives. While these were of course necessary, the additional adverse impacts to people’s mental health have to be acknowledged as we move towards easing restrictions as vaccinations are rolled out across the country.

Living rurally brings its own set of challenges for many who can face isolation or difficulty accessing services that can help due to the challenging geography our region offers.

Much has been done to remove the stigma formerly attached to mental health issues, and many people do now receive treatment from the NHS and help from many voluntary organisations.

However, it’s clear that more needs to be done, and recently MSPs and MPs have had contact with NHS Highland about pressures on the service.

As an MSP for some years now, I am acutely aware that mental health can affect us all – and it is far more common than I believed before being elected. Pressure caused by life events – divorce, loss of a loved one, difficulty at work, physical illness, loss of a job, alcohol or drug abuse – can be the causes which lead to or make worse mental health problems.

In extreme cases people, I stress a very small proportion of those who suffer in this way, take their own life. This is and has been a particularly acute problem in the Highlands and Islands.

World Suicide Prevention Day was on September 10 and was certainly a time to reflect on the topic that unfortunately effects one too many in the Highlands whether that be through the loss of a loved one or struggling with one’s own mental health.

As farming minister, I was made aware of and supported the great work that Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI) does. It provides support to farmers and crofters who are often isolated in remote rural places, with no one to turn to.

I know also that a large number of voluntary associations in the Highlands and Islands also provide similar invaluable help such as Mikeysline, the Samaritans etc.

But we all recognise that there is more to be done in ensuing that treatment and help is available to those who need it. Removing the stigma is one way of helping people to make that initial approach for help to their GP or someone else they can trust. All of us can help here by assisting a friend in need.

Related Story – Seven Highland politicians call on the health secretary for urgent support for mental health services in the Highlands in a rare cross-party show of support between the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green parties

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