Mental Health Awareness Week
As the theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week campaign is stress, you will no doubt have seen many groups and organisations talking about how they are helping people to recognise and manage their stress.
There is a lot of good advice out there and for many of us it is about finding what helps us switch off and cope with the pressures of work and other responsibilities, even for a little while.
As a former mental health officer and social worker I know that while there are things that we can all do to improve our mental health, sometimes there are stressors that we can’t control or mediate. This was reinforced by a report from the Mental Health Foundation published just this week.
It highlights how living in poverty, being in unsecure housing or employment, our age or belonging to a black or minority ethnic group can make us more vulnerable to the physical and mental health impact of long term stress and the feeling of being overwhelmed in our lives.
For people experiencing stress due to financial pressures, I would encourage them to find out if they are claiming all the financial support they are entitled to as we have found that a huge amount of benefits go unclaimed in Scotland.
This is why the Scottish Government is working hard to encourage people to take up benefits they are entitled to. There are a range of reasons why people may not be claiming. For some, it might be a lack of awareness, and this is why we are running campaigns to encourage people to find out what they may be entitled to.
And for others, it may be that the current system puts unnecessary barriers in place – especially for people who experience mental health issues.
Although we cannot fix the problems with the current UK welfare system, we are working to ensure that when we take on delivery of the 11 benefits that will be transferred to the Scottish Government in this parliamentary term that the service we deliver is as inclusive and accessible as possible.
We will communicate with people in the way that is best for them, we will make decisions using existing medical evidence and only carry out face-to-face assessments where we are unable to do so, no one will ever be obligated to have an assessment carried out by the private sector and assessments will be done by someone with knowledge of the condition that the person has that is being assessed.
We will also always allow someone to bring along a supporter – be it a family member or friend – who will be able to make representations on their behalf and those with disabilities who need independent advocacy support have a right to those services.
Throughout our recent consultation on loneliness and social isolation we also heard from many people about the circumstances and challenges that contributed to feelings of loneliness.
While the Mental Health Foundation report may not have specifically looked at this, the evidence coming forward through our meetings and responses clearly show the scale of the impact on our wellbeing when social interaction is reduced.
That poverty, discrimination and social isolation are key sources of stress and can have serious consequences for physical and mental health and make people more vulnerable to stress is a critical reminder that our commitment to create a fairer, more equal, Scotland is not just the right thing to do, it is the smart and healthy thing to do.
It shows that addressing these issues will deliver far more than economic improvements – it has the power to fundamentally improve people’s lives.
Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities.
Find out more about any benefits you may be entitled to on the Citizens’ Advice Scotland website or call 0800 800 9060