A Connected Scotland: our strategy for tackling social isolation and loneliness and building stronger social connections

The Scottish Government’s first national strategy to tackle social isolation and loneliness and build stronger social connections.

Priority 2: Promote positive attitudes and tackle stigma

Build positive and healthy relationships

At the heart of the Scottish education policy landscape and curriculum is a focus on wellbeing and the importance of relationships in shaping outcomes. Embedded within this is an understanding of how early and later experiences can impact on children and young people's behaviour and the need to ensure that we take this into account when supporting them. Supporting the development of strong and positive relationships is important, so that as people move through life they're better able to establish and nurture their social connections. To support our young people as they move through the levels of education, we have placed health and wellbeing as a core element of Curriculum for Excellence. Health and wellbeing, along with literacy and numeracy, is the responsibility of all staff in the school. Making sure children and young people are included, engaged, and involved in their education is fundamental to achievement and attainment in school. An important element of Health and Wellbeing in our schools is Personal and Social Education (PSE). We want to ensure that all of our pupils are engaging and developing as they move through education, not just academically, but with the important life skills and experiences they need to build positive and healthy relationships. We have recently undertaken a review of PSE delivery in our schools and will implement the recommendations of this review with key partners and stakeholders over the course of this parliamentary term.

Relationship based approaches such as a nurturing approach help schools to develop an awareness of early adversity and trauma and are therefore a pivotal part of realising the Scottish Government's aim of preventing and mitigating the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences. There is a long established evidence base for the use of Nurture Groups as a targeted approach to support children and young people but schools and local authorities are also increasingly seeing the benefits of using a nurturing approach at the whole school level. Education Scotland has developed two national professional learning resources. The first – Nurturing Approaches in the primary school – explores attachment and nurture in the Early Years. The second – a whole school Nurturing Approach – promotes school connectedness, resilience and the development of social and emotional competences all of which are key aspects of promoting mental wellbeing. We will continue to roll this out to schools through the demonstration of good practice and supporting resources that teachers and staff can access and utilise to meet the needs of their individual pupils.

Reduce stigma

Reducing stigma starts with working to raise the profile of the issues of social isolation and loneliness across Scotland. We know that stigma continues to attach itself to these issues and people are generally reluctant to admit that they experience loneliness, or that they may be socially isolated.

We also know that promoting positive attitudes and reducing stigma are interlinked. This strategy is a step in the right direction in addressing this, but we need to do more. So we will engage with See Me, Scotland's campaign to end stigma around mental health, to better understand the learning from the development and impact of their work, and work with partners to better understand what would work to reduce the stigma around social isolation and loneliness.

Encourage kindness

Kindness is at the heart of the new National Performance Framework (NPF). This completely revised NPF has been developed with the people of Scotland to reflect our values as a nation and the aspirations we hold for our future. Ongoing work by the Carnegie UK Trust[44] has identified that kindness can go a long way to reducing social isolation and loneliness, and has also identified what contributes to creating kinder communities and challenged policy makers to think about what the role of kindness is in developing public policy and delivering public services. This challenging work has helped to kick start a radical and meaningful conversation about the importance of kindness, and we want to ensure that the ambitions of this Strategy are rooted in this conversation as it progresses. The Scottish Government is participating fully in the ongoing work, led by Carnegie, to improve our approach to developing and delivering policies and services that are genuinely kind, which treat people with kindness, dignity and compassion and which create the conditions for improving the well being of people, families and communities across Scotland. We are watching the kindness related work underway in North Ayrshire with great interest and have already ensured that our new responsibilities around Social Security have these principles at their heart.

Our most recent campaign for St Andrew's Day encouraged people to #belikeStAndrew and perform an action of kindness, and we will continue to look for ways in which to embed kindness across our work and promote it as a value central to delivering for the people of Scotland.

Improve mental wellbeing

In addition to the opportunities presented in the Public Service Reform programme, actions in the Government's Mental Health Strategy to improve mental health and wellbeing will be important. Social isolation and loneliness can be a feature of mental ill-health and measures to promote good mental well-being can help to address these. For example, the Mental Health Strategy recognises distinctive experiences of isolation within rural communities and commits to supporting the further development of the National Rural Mental Health Forum to reflect the unique challenges presented by rural isolation.

We want to create a Scotland where we have good mental wellbeing and where all people can thrive across their lifespan. Our guiding ambition for mental health is simple but, if realised, will change and save lives – that we must prevent and treat mental health problems with the same commitment, passion and drive as we do with physical health problems. We will continue to support and develop front line initiatives such as Breathing Space, a telephone and web service for people experiencing anxiety or low mood. We will also continue to support the innovative Distress Brief Intervention (DBI) pilot programme, in which connected, compassionate support is offered to people who present in distress to frontline services . The pilot is being evaluated, with the evaluation report expected in 2021, and we will explore further the extent to which social isolation and loneliness manifests itself within those who access this programme.

Prevention and early intervention is a theme of the Mental Health Strategy. We want every child and young person to have appropriate access to emotional and mental well-being support in school, and the Mental Health Strategy sets out clearly the actions we are taking to improve early intervention, and ensure better access to services. We have built on this positive action through the commitments within this year's Programme for Government which included measures for radical reform of our response to mental ill-health and support for good mental health. This included a commitment to invest in access to school counselling services, mental health first aid training for local authority staff and access to counselling in further and higher education.

A complex range of factors can contribute to people contemplating suicide. Many are not to do with mental ill-health and can instead relate to stressful life circumstances, events or changes in a person's life, where there are prevention opportunities for public bodies and communities. Social isolation is recognised as a factor known to contribute to raised suicide risk. Our recently published Suicide Prevention Action Plan "Every Life Matters" sets out a range of actions designed to continue the long-term downward trend in the suicide rate in Scotland, and these will in turn help with issues of social isolation and loneliness. We envisage a Scotland where suicide is preventable; where help and support is available to anyone contemplating suicide and to those who have lost a loved one to suicide. Healthcare settings will continue to be important for supporting prevention and interventions. The National Suicide Prevention Leadership Group will also give consideration to wider settings where at-risk individuals can be supported – such as Jobcentres, Citizens' Advice Bureaus and solicitors' offices.

We want every child and young person to have appropriate access to emotional and mental wellbeing support in school, and the aforementioned mental health strategy sets out clearly how we can improve early intervention, and ensure better access to services. We have built on this positive action through the commitments within this year's Programme for Government which included measures for radical reform of our response to mental ill-health and support for good mental health. This included a commitment to invest in access to school counselling services, mental health first aid training for local authority staff and counselling in further and higher education.

Promote intergenerational dialogue

Intergenerational dialogue has a vital role in ensuring that different generations talk to each other in order to tackle shared challenges and prevent exclusion and isolation. As part of the legacy of the Year of Young People, we'll also look at what more we can do to develop intergenerational practice and encourage contact between people of all ages. This will help to challenge ageism and discrimination and ensure that people of all ages are more included in their communities.

Spotlight: Hanover Scotland Housing Association – Linkwood View, Elgin

Linkwood View is a 32 home social housing development in the North East of Scotland which offers a new model for better integration of health, social care and housing policy. To encourage intergenerational interactions, Hanover has gifted a small part of the large garden area of Linkwood View to the bordering Magic Roundabout nursery. This allows the children to grow their own plants and flowers and maintain the garden. Not only has this assisted with outdoor educational activity for the children, it has fostered an intergenerational understanding between the residents and the nursery children.


Email: Trevor Owen

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