Looking after our mental health has never been more important, Nicola Sturgeon said, as she insisted that NHS support is available for anyone who needs it.
At the daily coronavirus briefing, the First Minister acknowledged the toll coronavirus and lockdown measures could be having on people’s mental wellbeing, citing financial hardship, isolation and bereavement.
Ms Sturgeon said that mental health support and services were still there for anyone who needs them during the lockdown, including for anyone suffering mental illness for the first time.
“One of the cruel things about Covid-19 is that we need each other more than ever right now, yet we’ve been told for good reason to stay apart,” she said.
“That’s one reason why I’m so keen to stress the importance of kindness solidarity and love throughout this crisis and there is a role for all of us to play in trying to support each other.
“But I also know that many people will need more specialised help and advice to support their mental health and wellbeing.
“And so, in many ways, the most important message I want to get across today is this one: help is there if you need it.
“The NHS Inform website can help you see what service will be best for you, so please reach out for help because it is there.”
That message was echoed by Dr John Mitchell, a consultant psychiatrist and government adviser, who said that people are currently “surrounded by loss” while lives had been put on hold during these “unprecedented times”.
Addressing the pressure on mental health, Dr Mitchell recommended phoning friends and family regularly, developing daily routines to stay active, get plenty of sleep and avoid consuming too much negative news if it was causing anxiety.
Dr Mitchell said: “It is tough and it will be tough for some time, but we are all together in sharing this experience, and we share it with people not just across Scotland, but across the world. It connects us with others like we’ve never known before.
“So it’s never been more important than though that we take the time to think about our own mental health, and the mental health of those around us.”
He added: “People are amazingly resilient. The current fear isolation and distress will pass and will not inevitably create mental illness in everyone.
“But we still have to look after ourselves and each other.
“For those with mental ill health or those who do develop it, you can still get the help and treatment you need to the existing routes of NHS24 and mainstream NHS services.
“Our NHS is here for you.”
With the latest children and adolescent mental health service (Camhs) figures showing more than a third of young people (33.6%) had to wait longer than the Scottish Government’s maximum target of 18 weeks, Ms Sturgeon said supporting these services in the “recovery phase” would be a “big priority”.
Ms Sturgeon said: “Before this crisis we were investing heavily and improving access to Camhs to try to reduce the waiting times and many more professionals were being employed.
“We had recognised that was a big challenge and remains a big challenge.
“Obviously some of those services will require to be provided differently during this period of crisis but we want to nevertheless send that clear message about help being available if people need it and encourage people to come forward.
“As with the health service generally, as we come out of this crisis, making sure that we are supporting services in that recovery phase and getting back to normal will be a big priority.”