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Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Thursday, November 10, 2022

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Point of Order, Mental Health (Workplace Stigma), Portfolio Question Time, Alternative Pathways to Primary Care, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time


Contents


Mental Health (Workplace Stigma)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Annabelle Ewing)

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-05911, in the name of Emma Roddick, on mental health stigma in the workplace. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament is concerned by what it sees as continued stigmatisation of mental health issues and those who experience them; considers that, while wider understanding of depression and anxiety is progressing, organisations such as the Royal College of Psychiatrists have noted a pervasive stigma relating to personality, dissociative, and psychosis-related disorders; understands that this stigma is particularly concentrated in the world of work, meaning that people with psychiatric conditions are less likely to be employed or remain so; notes efforts such as SeeMe Scotland’s See Me in Work scheme, which aim to support employers to tackle mental health discrimination; understands that a survey by SeeMe was explored in a recent report, Mental Health—Exploring the Current Landscape, published by Centred, a mental health charity based in the Highlands of Scotland, which showed around half of people believe someone would not disclose a mental illness at work for fear of adverse effects on their employment; considers that this report contains valuable research around stigma, rural mental health, and the overall situation in Scotland; further notes the belief that this demonstrates that more work needs to be done by employers, public health agencies and government to tackle mental health stigma, and notes the calls for these issues to be addressed in the new Scottish Government Mental Health Strategy.

12:57  

Emma Roddick (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)

I thank all members who supported the motion in my name. It means a lot to me that there were signatures from members from every party. That makes me feel supported in my own workplace—one that can often feel like the wrong place in which to have any sort of perceived weakness, and where my disability is frequently used as an adjective by some people to describe things that they do not like.

I am the first member of the Scottish Parliament to be elected with a known personality disorder. I have my problems with that term, but it is important to me to have a part in making things better for other people who suffer not just the same symptoms but the same judgment and stigma that come with such a diagnosis.

Therefore, when I read a report by Centred, a mental health organisation in my region, which referenced See Me Scotland’s recent Scottish mental illness stigma study, I knew that I had to share it with members. When around half of the people who were surveyed still believe that someone would keep a mental illness to themselves at work for fear of being passed over for promotion, bullied or even fired, it should be clear to everyone that there is still a huge problem to overcome. Centred’s report is well worth reading. Since I lodged the motion for the debate, it has published even more research into the experience of young people in the Highlands and Islands. It is particularly important to highlight its recommendation that more qualitative research be done on such stigma to enable us to better understand where we are now—particularly on how it affects women and minority groups differently. I hope that the minister will be able to specifically respond to that ask in his reply to the debate.

During my time as an MSP, I have met representatives of more than 30 organisations who work in the mental health field. This summer, I went to Portree to spend some time with service users at Skye and Lochalsh Mental Health Association, where I sat for a couple hours listening to them talk about what the organisation meant to them. I remember, in particular, a common theme: why they loved coming to spend time there. “It’s like a family,” one person said, “but without the judgment.” Most were not looking for specialist services; they just needed a place where they could be themselves, free of stigma.

Another organisation that works closely with people in my region is Support in Mind Scotland, which, ahead of the debate, wrote to members about the need for training to overcome workplace stigma. One of the first things that my office manager and I did last year was to take the training provided by the Scottish Association for Mental Health, and I am working on getting my whole office similar training. I want my team to be able to come to me or their manager with concerns. Equally, I want people who are in my role after me to feel that mental illness will not stand in their way.

There is already an assumption that, as a young woman, I am not smart or strong enough to do this job, and it gets worse when it becomes public knowledge that you have mental health issues. During last year’s election campaign, there were letters to editors, blog posts and even Reddit threads discussing how incapable I might be, listing symptoms that can be associated with my diagnosis and asking, “Does that sound like an MSP?” Well, I hope that it does now. [Applause.]

I honestly believe that understanding of depression and anxiety is improving, and I think that acceptance is, too. However, when it comes to severe and enduring illnesses such as personality disorders and schizophrenia—diagnoses that people still find scary—there is still a severe and enduring belief that those of us who suffer from them are dangerous, cannot work or should be avoided.

Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

In the spirit of what the member has just been saying, I want to say that I am one of those people who has never publicly said that they have a mental health diagnosis. I think, therefore, that this might be a good time to say that I have been an MSP for the past six years; I suffer from depression; and no one has noticed. [Applause.]

Emma Roddick

I thank Gillian Martin very much for that contribution, which absolutely makes the point.

I know how tough it is to get away from the trope of the crazy person, especially the crazy, lonely and traumatised old woman, as the easy baddie in the story, and I think that it is hard to overstate the importance of language in perpetuating such an attitude. In questions to the minister recently following the publication of the suicide prevention strategy, I heard many colleagues talk about the importance of responsible reporting and the need for media outlets to follow well-known and highly-publicised guidelines on reporting suicide, mental health and bereavement. Then I sat in meetings in this very building and listened to colleagues describe things as “crazy”, “insane”, “madness” and people as “nutters” and “psychos” or talk about “political suicide” or even wanting to “slit their wrists”.

Language actually matters. Nobody should understand that more than us, because we deal in words. We use words to make and win arguments, change laws and convince people to wander out on a rainy Thursday to vote for us. Our words have even more power than most and, as someone with a mental illness, I do not think that it is asking too much that those words be chosen with care. When we use language irresponsibly, when we make mental illness something scary or something to laugh at and when we talk down a colleague by saying “She’s crazy”, “She can’t cope” or “I wouldn’t want to be left alone in a room with her”, we perpetuate stigma.

It is important that we as MSPs and, indeed, employers across sectors recognise the importance of responsible language. See Me Scotland has outlined the need for people to be able to talk openly about their mental health if we are going to overcome stigma. There will be many MSPs and members of staff in this building who have mental health issues and who flinch every time they hear derogatory comments from people in power. They might withdraw a bit, become a bit less likely to ask for help or feel that they are not welcome in their workplace. That is not okay.

I am grateful to all who tweet on world mental health day or who suggest that they want to raise awareness of mental illness or to prevent suicide, but if, in their workplaces, those same people turn around and repeat stigmatising tropes or make offensive comments about colleagues with illnesses, they are part of the problem. Every time they use a diagnosis as an insult or a punchline, they ensure that we will not succeed in tackling stigma.

I am not saying this to offend or call out anyone in particular. It is a long process, and I count myself among those who need to do better. Over the years, I have worked to replace some of the words and phrases that I learned growing up with ones that do not relate to disability. Instead of saying “That’s mental”, I might say “That’s wild” or “That’s ridiculous.” Let us all do better and lead the way in Scotland becoming a more accepting country that does not stigmatise those with mental illness in their workplaces.

The hardest thing is that I could talk for probably 12 hours about my experience of this issue, the experience of constituents and the different impact in the Highlands and Islands and on rural and island communities. However, I am out of time, so that will need to be it for today. I look forward to the other contributions to the debate and thank everyone who has stayed behind to contribute or to listen. [Applause.]

I call Karen Adam, who is joining us remotely.

13:04  

Karen Adam (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

I thank my colleague Emma Roddick for bringing the motion to Parliament for debate and for clearly setting out many of the issues surrounding mental health support in the workplace. It is quite apparent that I have a mental health condition; I have panic disorder due to post-traumatic stress disorder, as was apparent when I gave my first speech in Parliament and my legs did not work. I am therefore glad that we are talking about this issue today.

Stigma and discrimination can have a devastating impact on the lives of people with mental health problems. They can stop people reaching out for the right help and support and can leave people feeling isolated or living in fear of judgment and dismissal. The worry is always there that they might be thought of as being incapable of doing their job. I am certainly in that bracket but, like my colleague Emma Roddick, I am very capable. However, someone who discloses their personal mental health struggle will always have that underlying worry. That is the reality for many people.

The workplace is a huge part of our lives. Just as our home life and social interactions need to provide us with safety and security, our workplace should do the same, and we should take steps to improve working conditions.

Over the decades, there have been improvements in the workplace in relation to health and safety. That has mostly involved physical health and safety, but I think that we should also improve the situation with regard to mental health and safety. Providing much-needed support around prevention and intervention for employees that is easy to access is crucial. Reducing stigma and raising awareness in the workplace can be transformational, and education is key to addressing that. I feel empowered by giving this speech today, and I am grateful for the opportunity to do so. If we create a culture from the ground up, we ensure that employees are educated, and that helps to get everybody on board, which is, surely, vital. We cannot tackle mental health issues in the workplace without addressing bullying and ignorance. How we act in relation to one another is vital.

I have been encouraged by the outstanding work of See Me Scotland, and I warmly welcome its partnership involvement with vulnerable groups that, according to statistics, experience mental ill health the most. For example, its work to tackle mental health stigma and discrimination in the LGBT community is pioneering. It is important to note the holistic approach that is needed to tackle mental health stigma. Often, there are complex layers to the issue, so casting a wider eye over it is vital.

For example, I represent a coastal and rural constituency with unique mental health challenges being faced by farmers and fishers, and by people in those wider industries. I commend the work of NFU Scotland and the SeaFit programme, which work to protect the mental wellbeing of everyone who works in those industries and offer much-needed support and vital services. Work to reduce stigma must come from within those industries, as those organisations know their members best.

I want to take a moment to recognise the individuals who work incredibly hard to raise awareness and provide support. There are too many for me to mention all of them, but they work hard to amplify the message that we are sending today. Many of them have been impacted by mental health issues, either personally or in relation to someone they love.

I would like to mention one of my constituents, Danny Thain, from Fraserburgh, who will take to the streets of Aberdeen to sleep rough for a month, relying on the kindness of strangers for food and drink, to raise awareness of mental health issues and to raise funds for a mental health retreat, after his devastating experience of losing three close friends to suicide.

In conclusion, we must encourage and work with employers and other stakeholders to ensure that a workplace culture allows employees to prioritise their mental health and wellbeing without fear of stigma. I am proud that, in Scotland, we are moving towards a fundamental and progressive shift towards a human rights-based policy approach. Being much closer to complying with international human rights standards will address many of the issues that are raised in the motion. Of course, that alone will not help. We need that foundational cultural change as a priority, and it begins with all of us.

13:08  

Sue Webber (Lothian) (Con)

Mental health stigma in the workplace is an important issue, and I thank Emma Roddick for bringing it to the chamber and for her personal, empowered and heartfelt speech.

As we all know, the Covid-19 pandemic had a negative impact on the population’s mental health. Although that has raised public awareness and increased the number of conversations that take place about mental illness, we are still a long way from eradicating the stigma that surrounds it. That can be particularly true in the workplace, where it is still common for employees to experience discriminating and unfair treatment, often because of pre-existing attitudes towards mental health conditions. Unfortunately, that stigma and the fear of judgment often prevent employees from disclosing their mental illness or seeking help.

Emma Roddick’s motion highlights a report that was published by Centred, which is a mental health charity in the Highlands. The report showed that about half of people believe that someone would not disclose a mental illness at work for fear of adverse effects on their employment.

Support in Mind Scotland believes that mental health training is a key element in establishing a flourishing workplace and that training staff in mental health can help?to break down stigma and discrimination and build awareness. It delivers the rural connections project, which aims to improve mental health and wellbeing and reduce mental health stigma throughout rural Scotland by providing introductory mental health awareness training. Following that training, 87 per cent of participants reported that they felt more confident in talking about mental health with their staff or colleagues. That evidence highlights that mental health training is invaluable in reducing stigma in the workplace by increasing people’s knowledge and breaking stereotypes.

It can be difficult for employers to put themselves in the shoes of those who are suffering from mental health issues. Knowing what to say and what to do and what not to say and what not to do is key.? I know that only too well. On reflection, I know that, when I managed a large group of remote workers in a previous life, I had team members who were struggling with issues that I could have handled better.?That was almost 20 years ago, and much has changed since then in respect of awareness, human resources policies, and training and awareness for leaders. However, what I could call a mental health crisis of my own gave me empathy and understanding of the issues, the challenges, the fear and the anxiety that come from a person disclosing that they are struggling at work.

I was fortunate that help was available through our employee assistance programme. After a short period of absence from work, I went back on a phased return.?The support from colleagues and customers surprised me, and I can still recall how I felt going back to work.?As I said, I was fortunate. Understanding and empathy go a long way towards reducing stigma.

It is important to highlight statistics that show how poor mental health in the workplace can impact our economy. Almost 13 per cent of sickness absence days in the United Kingdom can be attributed to mental health conditions. It can cost Scotland’s economy £8.8 billion a year. Reducing the stigma is therefore an important strategy for supporting people with poor mental health to stay in or return to the workforce. Changing our workforce culture plays a huge part in that.

I do not believe that anyone can disagree that the stigma surrounding mental health issues is wrong and unfair. As we have heard—we will no doubt hear more about this—more work needs to be done by employers, public health agencies and the Scottish Government to tackle that stigma. However, that starts with each and every one of us taking a leadership role. I, too, would welcome those issues being addressed in the new Scottish Government mental health strategy.

13:13  

Carol Mochan (South Scotland) (Lab)

I thank Emma Roddick for bringing this important debate to the chamber. I hope that she knows that I greatly admire her honesty on the issue and the way in which she champions it. Although we may have some political differences, I find her contributions in the chamber to be excellent. I have heard from many people that she works very hard throughout her region.

It would be welcome if, in the future, mental health were debated in the Government’s debating time, as that would show the Government’s commitment to improving mental health services in Scotland. I do not think that the minister will be surprised by my adding that the scrutiny of services is key to how we improve them. Perhaps the minister could come back to that in his closing remarks.

There are few more important things than the mental health and wellbeing of the population, and there are few more important places in which to remove the stigma surrounding mental health difficulties and discussions surrounding them than the workplace. We spend much of our time in the workplace, and we should feel safe and secure in it and able to open up, if we require to do so.

That is why it is important that we listen to the words of some of the organisations that have done excellent research. See Me, as mentioned in the motion, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and Unison the trade union have consistently called for greater action on mental health matters and on taking mental health matters seriously in the workplace.

In general, the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic are well known, including the economic impact, but the impacts on the mental health of the Scottish population are perhaps not always what comes to the front of people’s minds.

SAMH produced an excellent report that included the comment that, during the pandemic,

“people reported feeling like a burden and anxious about adding to the pressure of the health service by asking for help and support.”

It is significant that, even though we were putting out the message that health services were open, people thought that they should not approach those services with mental health issues. It is sad that people felt that they should not come forward to ask for help with mental health.

We have to remove the stigma. Struggling with mental health does not make an individual a burden, but our reluctance to talk about mental health in the workplace and in wider society shows how much further we have to go and highlights how badly we are letting people down, including our own colleagues, who desperately need to talk at times, but can be made to feel that it is uncomfortable or inappropriate to do so in the workplace. That is not good enough.

Moreover, we must look at the pressures on our mental health workforce in Scotland, for which the Government may have responsibility. Unison in the Scottish Borders has called on the Scottish Government to deliver a staffing strategy that will alleviate at least some of the significant pressures facing our health and social care workforce on a daily basis—pressures that undoubtedly will impact negatively on the mental health of those workers.

It is important that we talk about the workforces that we manage, and yesterday marked a historic moment as nurses in every health board across Scotland, including over 92 per cent of the Royal College of Nursing members who voted in my area of NHS Ayrshire and Arran, supported strike action. We note that much of what the workforce is talking about is to do with the pressures in the workplace.

That decision has been taken by a national health service workforce who for years have worked in an understaffed and underresourced service and been underpaid and undervalued. They have now said loudly and clearly that the pressures of working in the NHS at this time, including the pressures on their mental health—as has been well reported—are too great for the pay, terms and conditions that they receive from the Government. The RCN, the wider trade union movement, and those workers have my full support in that, and I hope that they also have support from other members who are in the chamber.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists, which gave us a briefing, believes that mental health should be treated as highly as winter pressures on the NHS—that is how important the issue is. We must remove stigma. I again thank Emma Roddick for bringing the debate to the chamber.

13:18  

Gillian Mackay (Central Scotland) (Green)

I, too, thank Emma Roddick for bringing this important debate to the chamber, and I agree whole-heartedly with the points that she raised in her speech. Her honesty never fails to inspire me. I do not have a mental ill health diagnosis but, as a youngish woman who has a disability and who has, in this job, faced language that attempted to rubbish my impairment, I have a lot of empathy with the experience that Emma Roddick outlined. We cannot overestimate the power that our actions have over others’ ability to engage in a safe and sustainable way. Emma Roddick’s points on language should be taken on board by us all.

According to See Me Scotland, 56 per cent of people with a mental health issue have experienced stigma and discrimination. The Scottish mental illness stigma study, which was published in September 2022, reported that 77 per cent of survey respondents felt that they had been unfairly treated at work due to mental health stigma. That clearly shows that, although understanding of mental health issues is increasing, people are still being treated unfairly in their place of work.

Although employers may make commitments to being inclusive, that does not always result in better experiences for employees. The 2022 mental illness stigma study, which was conducted by the Mental Health Foundation Scotland, See Me and others, revealed that, although employers claimed to be inclusive or had national accreditation, some respondents described that as “a box-ticking exercise”.

Commitments mean nothing if they are not followed through in practice. A workplace culture in which people are penalised for having mental health issues and where many are too afraid to speak about their diagnosis clearly persists. Some respondents to the study spoke about being forced out of employment or being treated differently after taking sickness leave. It is shocking that, in 2022, people are still being forced out of work due to mental health issues. Clearly, much more work still needs to be done to ensure that employers understand and, most importantly, carry out their responsibilities to employees who are experiencing mental health issues.

As the motion states, people with certain mental health conditions are more likely to experience discrimination. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the employment rate among people with more common mental health conditions is around 60 per cent, and the rate for people with schizophrenia is around 10 per cent. It is not enough to raise awareness of workplace stress, anxiety and depression. Although it is extremely important that we continue that work, we also need to improve the understanding of mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and personality disorders.

One respondent to See Me’s study spoke about failing a workplace medical for a teaching role because of her bipolar disorder diagnosis. Her would-be employers quoted the Glasgow bin lorry tragedy as their rationale, implying that her condition made her dangerous. That the employer felt justified in denying the respondent employment because of her diagnosis shows a complete lack of understanding of the rights of people with mental health conditions and of how discrimination works. How are people supposed to feel comfortable revealing mental health issues or conditions when they know that it could result in a loss of employment, workplace discrimination, loss of wages and so on?

The study’s recommendations are clear: improved resourcing, prioritisation, knowledge, awareness and understanding lie at the heart of respondents’ views on how to achieve change. It calls for dedicated training in specific settings such as workplaces, as well as accountability for individuals or organisations that perpetuate stigma and discrimination. We need to create a culture in which employers are informed, understanding and responsible and where inclusion is seen not as a box-ticking exercise but as an integral part of an employer’s responsibility to its employees. Crucially, we need to ensure that bad practice is identified and addressed, and that training is delivered where necessary. I whole-heartedly agree with the wording of the motion, which says that

“more work needs to be done by employers, public health agencies and government to tackle mental health stigma”.

I thank everyone who has contributed their experiences to the debate. That is never easy to do, but it is brave and, in itself, it is helping to reduce stigma.

13:22  

Audrey Nicoll (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)

I, too, congratulate my colleague Emma Roddick on securing the debate, and thank her for raising the profile of such an important issue.

On 7 July 1988, I was a young officer who was looking forward to a long weekend off duty when I learned of the horror of the night before: the Piper Alpha oil platform disaster. A phone call that followed recalled me to duty and within a couple of hours, I was deployed, along with colleagues, to Aberdeen airport to await the arrival of the first of the personnel who had been lost in the explosion and recovered in the early stages of the emergency response. Our duties took us into an environment where those personnel had been taken to await their final journey back to their loved ones. I put on my oversized white paper suit and disposable gloves, and was given a clipboard and deployed into the area. I took a deep breath: the sense of dread and emotion was overwhelming, but I had to be brave—I just had to be.

Nothing, and no one, prepared me for what was to come in the days ahead. I considered myself to be a strong and resilient woman, but the psychological trauma for many—myself included—and the stigma that was associated with seeking help was profound. However, that attitude was of its day. I was lucky that I was able to access specialist support from an eminent psychiatrist, whose pioneering work on PTSD in police populations at that time was in its early stages. Since then, policing research has consistently shown that those who are most impacted by poor mental health are less likely to receive services, and that stigma and attitudes about treatment are factors in that.

Recently, the Criminal Justice Committee has been considering police mental wellbeing. We have taken evidence from stakeholders and police officers and have heard about the challenges and organisational factors that officers face, such as long hours, workload, organisational culture and the fact that, often, the removal of stigma relies on the values and attitudes of individual supervisors. We heard about the slow burn of deteriorating mental health and the failure of supervisors to recognise change and act on it to help officers to access the right support at the right time. The lack of clear pathways into specialist care was also concerning.

However, we also heard about very positive experiences of a supportive culture, attitudes and stigma being tackled in one policing division, and informal sessions being run to offer officers a space in which to talk about their mental health. Police Scotland is working incredibly hard to respond to mental wellbeing issues and, within that, to tackle stigma and negative attitudes and beliefs about those who have mental illness. It has strong partnerships with many organisations that work to tackle mental health stigma, including SAMH, See Me and many more.

However, there is much to do. The committee has written to Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority to highlight our findings and suggest follow-up work, particularly on training and robust data collection. We are keen to support the work that is required to improve awareness, create pathways to support, and address stigma in the workplace—which still impacts on so many and, ultimately, can result in people leaving the career that they love. I am determined to continue that work and to support tangible progress, with the tackling of stigma sitting at the heart of our efforts.

I thank Emma Roddick for providing me with the opportunity to contribute, and I wish her well in her efforts to eliminate workplace stigma once and for all.

13:26  

Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

I, too, thank Emma Roddick for bringing the debate, and for her powerful words—as I thank other members for theirs.

Over the past few years, I have been visiting Our Lady’s high school in Motherwell, talking to its higher politics students about various tricky subjects. A few years ago, I set them a challenge to write a speech for me—which they did, and which I delivered here—about bereavement services. Today, my speech has been written by higher politics student Eleyza Mohammed, who attends Taylor high school but joins the class at Our Lady’s. I thank her for doing that, and for coming along to listen to it. There she is in the gallery—I am embarrassing her.

Anxiety disorders are the most common and pervasive mental disorders. That is why this debate is so important. See Me Scotland’s “See me in work” four-stage programme helps employers to improve cultures, policies and practices in relation to mental health. The programme can save money for employers and improve the working lives of every one of their employees. The national programme to eliminate mental health stigma and discrimination has been awarded £5 million of Scottish Government funding for five years. The continuing investment in See Me, which has been announced alongside the launch of its new strategy “With Fairness in Mind”, will allow it to carry on its important work as part of the wider national response to the mental health impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Wendy Halliday, who is See Me’s director, said:

“Stigma and discrimination can have a devastating impact on the lives of people with mental health problems. It can stop people from getting the right help and support, it can cause people to lose their jobs, it can leave people isolated and, for young people, they can find themselves being judged and dismissed when trying to reach out.

That’s why the launch of our new five-year strategy ... and the continued investment in the See Me Programme from the Scottish Government is so important. There must be this ongoing commitment to ending the deep rooted stigma that exists in Scottish society, especially in workplaces, education, health and social care and communities.”

She is right. See Me wants a change in the way that support and treatment for mental health is thought about. It believes that

“Tackling stigma and discrimination and addressing the barriers they create must be central to any action to improve mental health.”

It is right about that, because the figures are stark: 70 per cent of people polled believe that people with mental health conditions experience stigma and discrimination in their lives and workplaces.

People who live in rural and remote areas can feel particularly isolated, and that can contribute to anxiety and depression. According to the results from a 2020 national survey on drug use and health,

“approximately 7.7 million nonmetropolitan adults reported having any mental illness ... accounting for 20.5% of nonmetropolitan adults. In addition, 1.8 million, or 4.8%, of adults in nonmetropolitan areas reported having serious thoughts of suicide”

annually. Those are frightening figures.

Half of people in problem debt have a mental health problem. There are several ways in which the rising cost of living can affect people’s health. Being unable to afford sufficient food leaves people malnourished, and being unable to keep their home warm leaves them at risk of developing diseases and, importantly, can affect their mental health: almost 40 per cent of people with a mental health problem say their financial situation worsens their mental health problems, so it becomes a vicious circle. That demonstrates that more work needs to be done by employers, public health agencies and Government to tackle mental health stigma, and those issues must be addressed in any Government mental health strategy.

I thank Eleyza Mohammed once again. [Applause.]

13:32  

The Minister for Mental Wellbeing and Social Care (Kevin Stewart)

The debate has been thoughtful, personal and empathetic. Such debates show Parliament at its very best, and I thank Emma Roddick for raising awareness of this important issue in Parliament. I do not think that anyone out there could say that she is “not smart or strong enough” to be in the chamber, and I think that we all have a duty to show people out there that all of us can come here and contribute, no matter who or what we are.

I will highlight something else to Ms Roddick—I am deviating slightly from the subject here, Presiding Officer. As we have this debate, we are obviously being watched by many people. Somebody has sent me a message to say that it is great that we are having the debate about discrimination and stigma in mental health but that we also need to do better in tackling stigma and discrimination in the workplace for people who have autism or are neurodivergent. That might be a debate for another day, but we are doing the right thing by talking about the issues here today.

I offer my plaudits to the folk who have told us about the issues that they have faced: Gillian Martin, Karen Adam, Sue Webber, Audrey Nicoll and Emma Roddick. The three of us who represent Aberdeen constituencies are at the front of the chamber today. I know that, whenever we hear about Piper Alpha, that gives us goose bumps. I know people who should have been helped to a greater extent after that tragedy, but they were not, and the trauma has remained with many folk for a long time. We must do better.

During my tenure as Minister for Mental Wellbeing and Social Care, I have had the great privilege of speaking with many people who have lived experience of mental health and wellbeing challenges. I know at first hand the detrimental impact that stigma and discrimination can have on people’s lives, whether in relationships, employment, healthcare settings or other areas of life. That can also make it much harder for people to seek support when they need it most. However, when we remove those barriers, people can better access services and support, and they feel valued, included and respected.

Tackling stigma and discrimination around mental health remains a key priority for the Government. As others have mentioned, last year, we announced £5 million of funding over five years for See Me’s campaign. That shows the value that we place on See Me and its important work on tackling stigma in workplaces and communities across our country.

Evidence shows that, during the pandemic, there was a shift in how society discusses mental health. A poll of 1,000 people in Scotland in August by See Me and Censuswide found a 60 percentage point increase in the proportion of people who say that they would have the confidence to start a conversation with someone about their mental health. That is up from 24 per cent 20 years ago to 84 per cent today. Almost eight in 10 of those who were questioned agreed that they would have the confidence to talk about their own mental health today, and 96 per cent of people said that they would be willing to support someone who was struggling with their mental health.

However, although it is positive that people now talk more openly, this debate proves that discrimination and stigma have not gone away. As noted by the Royal College of Psychiatrists and Centred’s research, it is clear that the stigma can be particularly challenging for those with mental health conditions. That is why I am pleased that See Me broke new ground in developing the recent Scottish mental illness stigma survey, which was published in September. Sadly, the survey highlights how people with severe mental illness have been impacted in so many aspects of their lives, from relationships to employment and many areas beyond.

Mercedes Villalba (North East Scotland) (Lab)

As we have heard today, the workplace can often be a major contributor to poor mental health, particularly due to low pay, insecure work and poor working conditions. At this year’s congress of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers—USDAW—highlighted how strong collective bargaining rights are crucial to better terms and conditions and better support for mental health at work. Does the minister agree that trade union recognition and collective bargaining should be promoted through the Scottish Government’s fair work approach to improve workplace mental health support?

Kevin Stewart

I should declare an interest as a member of Unison, before I continue. The work that I am doing on the national care service shows, I think, the importance of central bargaining. I have been a trade unionist for many a year, and I would encourage people to join unions. Fair work is at the heart of resolving some of the issues that we are discussing today. Through our refreshed fair work action plan, which will be published this year, we want to ensure that those facing barriers to employment can access the support that they need.

In August, I visited WGM Engineering in Livingston, where we discussed the importance of challenging stigma in the workplace. I had the opportunity to hear about the company’s approach to supporting good mental health and wellbeing at work. Businesses are at different stages of developing mental health strategies in their workplaces, which is why we are working to ensure that employers have the support that they need to promote good practice.

This year, together with Public Health Scotland, business organisations, trade unions and mental health charities, the Government launched a digital platform signposting people to a range of free mental health and wellbeing resources for employees of all sizes across a range of sectors. That work complements the “See Me in Work” portal and programme for employers, and I encourage all members to look at that and promote those very valuable tools.

Today, there has also been talk about the stigma and discrimination that exist in certain sectors and communities. We must do more on that. I will write to members about what we are doing with ethnic minority communities, women and rural communities, which were mentioned earlier.

This is an extremely important area. As members know, we are investing heavily in community mental health and wellbeing. We made that investment in See Me to ensure that we get it right.

I said at the very beginning of my speech that it had been a thoughtful, personal and empathetic debate. People have told us about the challenges that they have faced. None of us should be afraid to discuss those challenges. I give plaudits to those who have done that, and to Emma Roddick for being so open, and for bringing the debate to the chamber. There is no doubt that she is smart enough and strong enough to be here.

One of the politicians whom I admire the most is someone who many of you will not have come across: Jim Kiddie. He was an SNP councillor in the city of Aberdeen, who had previously been a Labour councillor in the Grampian region. He always told his story about the challenges that he faced with his mental health. He served on the Millan committee that looked at mental health in Scotland. I looked up to him because he was open and honest and told people how it was. We should all be a bit more like that. If we were, we would be in a much better place when discussing mental health and wellbeing—not only in workplaces, but right across our country.

13:41 Meeting suspended.  

14:30 On resuming—