Featured in the Friends of The Scotsman Column & website.
Written by External Affairs Manager Tejesh Mistry.
Over the last two years I have been much more aware of my mental health, the periods of strain through Covid, juggling a high-pressure job alongside family and the day-to-day routine of life. Yet I’m always conscious I speak from a significant position of privilege with the stability of a home, a steady income and a loving family.
I benefitted enormously through periods of stress from hearing and reflecting on other people’s stories that I could relate to. Charity Executive Director David Murray led a poignant webinar session exploring “Fundraising and Mental Health”, highlighting the “high-stakes” reality of his experiences juggling senior leadership, fundraising and family life.
Charity Chief Executive Andy Ratcliffe shared a very honest account of his mental breakdown in the Third Sector Publication and highlights that it’s all too common to see, “leaders in the social sector treat themselves terribly because they are so driven by wanting to achieve positive change”. The Third Sector brings with it inherent challenges particularly around funding and sustainability which can have consequences for mental health. Alongside other lower paid sectors, “The Great Resignation” has hit hard and national data from Deloitte suggests mental health has been a key driver in this particularly for young people.
Men’s Mental Health month has helped raise awareness of the challenges men face in a context where over a third of Scottish men (37 per cent) have experienced suicidal thoughts because of stress. Nearly a third of men in Scotland (31 per cent) report that they had started drinking alcohol or increased the amount of alcohol they drank to cope with stress. We know that to help manage our physical and mental wellbeing we benefit from exercise and a good night’s sleep. Additionally, the time outdoors, in nature, physical activity and the release of endorphins is hugely important for our long-term health. Yet a recent study on behalf of Public Health Scotland highlighted that people from poorer backgrounds are nearly 15 per cent less likely to access greenspaces.
At Venture Trust we work with people that often live chaotic lives, those that are struggling with the destabilising consequences of poverty and inequality. These are often people that don’t have the relative stability and comforts many of us take for granted. Over the last 12 months a devastating nine out of ten people participating in our transformative personal development programmes are reporting mental health challenges. This is a 30 per cent rise from three years ago and represents a seismic increase through Covid.
We cannot ignore that poverty is a key driver of mental health problems. The Poverty Alliance and Mental Health Foundation formed a new partnership earlier this year to carry out invaluable research and lead policy development acknowledging the clear cause and effect. It is inevitable then that with more than one million people and nearly a quarter of all children living in poverty in Scotland, we are on the cusp of a much bigger challenge.
At national level we need the Scottish Government to make closer connections across departments at policy and investment level recognising that mental health and poverty are inseparable. Without support to address underlying poverty and mental health issues, the people that are struggling won’t be able to engage in wider support services. Men in particular have a barrier to seeking support and sharing and we have found that through a pioneering Outdoor Therapy walk-and-talk approach we have been able to start to break down some of these barriers.
Life is challenging for us all, particularly now as external pressures mount. Poverty in Scotland is further compounding the issue, particularly for our young people. We can all play some role in alleviating mental health issues by raising awareness, listening, learning and sharing. You can’t underestimate how life changing that can be.