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INSIDE TRACK: Case for us all to make mental health a priority

The subject for today's critique is:

myself. You see, I spent part of Tuesday writing about the number of people taking drugs for depression in Scotland.

It made me wonder, when was the last time I wrote an in-depth article about mental health issues north of the Border? I had an awful feeling it might have been the last time data was published about anti-depressant prescribing.

This wasn't quite the case. For example, I have covered shortages of trainee psychiatrists, looked at the support stroke patients receive to cope with anxiety and low mood and, along with colleagues, highlighted concerns about the treatment received by some dementia sufferers.

But the truth is, a disproportionate number of stories I have written focus on the figures revealing growing numbers swallowing Prozac and similar pills.

Anti-depressant use has climbed 53% in Scotland in 10 years to almost 750,000 (and it was right to chart that rise) but the data alone does not tell us much. Are the patients getting better? How many were offered psychological help? How often is depression linked to an event such as redundancy or bereavement? Could support at that time have helped patients avoid depressive illness? Do we all need to do a better job of looking after each other?

There might not be answers to some of these questions but they are certainly worth exploring. I would like to excuse any neglect on my part this year by saying the limelight has been on general hospital services because they were clearly overwhelmed with patients last winter. Of course, mental health issues including addictions and dementia are all part of their workload.

So, in a bid to make amends, I have now spent time contacting organisations and experts to collect views on how Scotland should be tackling mental health problems.

The stigma that still surrounds mental ill health was one of the first issues brought to my attention. People do not want to tell friends and family, let alone employers, about their experiences.

The status of mental health services was another matter raised. Labour leader Ed Miliband said in his party conference speech this week that mental health was "an afterthought in our National Health Service".

This sense that it sits to one side, and that services that deal with physical health problems will continue to swallow resources as patients stream through their doors, is also a worry in Scotland.

The reality for most people is that physical and mental health are all muddled up, with both influencing each other in a way that is sometimes impossible to untangle.

The NHS has to look after patients who are receiving treatment for both kinds of illness, alcoholism fills beds on many different hospital departments and vulnerable parents can turn children into patients without support.

Mental health should be a higher priority for me. It should be a higher priority all round.

Contextual targeting label: 
Health

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