By Stephen McGhee

AS we mark today’s World Mental Health Day in one of the most tumultuous years in recent history, we have the opportunity and duty to raise awareness of mental health problems and the implications they have across society. At the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition, we have been advocating for years that mental health should be regarded on a par with physical fitness, and given the current focus on public health, we cannot help but wonder why that’s still not the case.

If the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything, it is how interconnected every pillar of society is. It is accepted, and already noticeable, that the current health crisis brought about by the virus will have a knock-on effect on the general population’s mental health.

The rise in mental health problems has previously been labelled as a modern-day pandemic and one of the greatest public health challenges of our times. Figures speak for themselves as more than 792 million people are affected by mental health issues worldwide and nearly 800,000 people commit suicide every year, 80-90 per cent of whom had existing mental health problems. In the UK alone, one in four people experience problems with mental health and the costs of mental ill health surpass £105 billion every year.

Nevertheless, we do not seem to regard a mental health crisis as severe as the one brought by Covid-19; nor have governments coordinated their efforts in tackling the rise of mental ill health over the past decade as they have done to put the virus under control in the last six months. Mental health problems are even more worrying when they concern the mental fitness of our younger generations and how we are preparing them to face the growing challenges of entering adulthood.

One in 10 youngsters has experienced a mental health problem before covid-19 struck, and this number is anticipated to rise dramatically due to the pandemic. A recent study highlighted that in England more than 10 million people were expected to develop mental health problems over coronavirus, including 1.5m children.

Despite some efforts by the Scottish Government to tackle the effects of the pandemic on children’s mental health, we fear not enough is being done. Mental health services will inevitably face an overwhelming and unprecedented pressure due to a pent-up demand coupled with a cut in youth support services. This could potentially lead to a lost generation of vulnerable children and young people who are missing out on the support they vitally need.

Research suggests that around 70 per cent of children and young people who experience mental ill health had lacked appropriate early intervention support at a sufficiently early age. This can only be resolved by ensuring enough is done to provide the coping mechanisms and support children need at as early as possible so that mental health problems do not escalate.

We require an ambitious and well-resourced plan to redesign mental health support in Scotland, a system that was already under stress before the pandemic, if we are to ensure that people receive the help they need, when they need it.

This year’s theme for World Mental Health Day is mental health for all. Against the perfect storm of a mental health crisis combining with a global pandemic, we urge the Scottish Government and society as a whole to not lose sight of the challenges that the most vulnerable members of society face and place our efforts in indeed ensuring that sufficient mental health support for all our children is provided.

Stephen McGhee, Depute Managing Director of Spark of Genius, member of the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition