Creating a healthier Scotland - What matters to you

Summary report of the findings from the Healthier Scotland national conversation.

Wellbeing and Connected Communities

The importance of mental health and wellbeing was raised by people of all ages across Scotland. There is still concern about the stigma AROUND mental health and the need for education and information to tackle that. You are clear that mental health is as important as physical health and therefore should be treated equally. The importance of early intervention was raised, along with concern about the time it can take to access mental health services. There was a general view that there was too much reliance on pills rather than addressing root causes.

There is a clear sense that the focus of a health and social care system should be on wider wellbeing rather than a narrow definition of health. We heard a lot about what makes you feel well, and within that the importance of relationships and strong connections with your local community. Social isolation is a key issue - at all ages - and could be helped by more befriending services and peer support. Some people commented on how the nature of community has changed, and that we need a return to strong community values, with more spaces for local people to come together.

You said there should be a greater focus on tackling the stigma around mental health, and more support and encouragement to discuss the issues, understand how common they are and share experiences. You suggested that education and information were key to tackling the stigma, with a focus on changing attitudes at a young age. We heard from many young people who suggested that there should be more support in schools, including dedicated teachers who have the knowledge to spot warning signs, and the skills to lead open conversations about mental health with pupils and parents.

"Mental health is key to everyone's wellbeing but is often overlooked and continues to be stigmatised."
Alliance event, North Ayrshire

"We need to make it abundantly clear to school pupils especially that it's perfectly normal and common to struggle against mental health issues."
Scottish Health Council event, Western Isles

Many people talked about the need for mental health to be recognised and treated as equally important as physical health. Comments related to a lack of funding, fewer services and longer waiting times than for physical health conditions. A stronger focus amongst services on wellbeing rather than tackling ill-health was suggested as a way of bringing parity to both physical and mental health issues.

Some people shared positive experiences about mental health services, while others highlighted areas where improvements could be made. The length of time it can take to access services was a key issue, along with a feeling that there was too much reliance on prescribing anti-depressants rather than addressing the underlying issues. You recognised the need to get support early to avoid crisis situations, and called for more training for health professionals and others, so they can provide the support that is needed.

"Mental health waiting lists tend to be long and treatment short term…you can't put a time limit on recovery."
Alliance event, Clackmannanshire

"Support, guidance and services for those who suffer from mental health issues are not as readily available as they should be. As a result, many are living with mental ill-health and are becoming a hidden group in society."
Scottish Women's Convention consultation response

"Mental health needs to be seen on a parity with physical health."
Alliance event, Falkirk

"A holistic approach is vital as sometimes mental health problems are not treated as a priority and not given the same quality of care."
Facebook comment

We heard a lot about the connections between healthiness and happiness and the types of things that keep you well. Overwhelmingly, the responses reflected the importance of good relationships with family and friends, and with the wider community. You also told us about the emotional benefits of physical activity, a good work-life balance, interests, hobbies and pets.

"What matters to me is having care and support from family and friends, having someone to turn to and never feeling alone."
Dementia Carer Voices event, Glasgow Caledonian University

"Being healthy and happy depends on achieving a balanced life in terms of eating, drinking, being physically active and reducing stress."
Alliance, Citizen Wellbeing Assembly, Edinburgh

Strong, close communities were considered essential to mental health and wellbeing, along with regular personal contact. You said everyone has something to contribute to society, whether it's a skill, knowledge or just time and empathy, with some of you referring to these as community assets. You suggested that helping people recognise and use these assets can benefit individuals and their communities, and could take the pressure off health and social care services.

Some of you highlighted that getting access to community spaces can be a barrier to people coming together. Others felt that it was difficult to access those that did exist and you sometimes had to rely on others, such as carers,
to help you access them.

"Older people, unemployed and lonely people may find that by offering their time they find new meaning to their life and gain great satisfaction in knowing they are making a difference in their community."
Comment on Healthier Scotland dialogue app

"A lack of access to appropriate and affordable community spaces prevents people from accessing activities which could keep them healthy and socially connected."
Alliance event, Falkirk

The impact of social isolation and loneliness were raised by people of all ages, in all kinds of communities across Scotland. Causes include a lack of close friends or family, transport or access issues, difficulty in finding out what's available, and communication problems. Moving to a new area can be a factor, and some of you felt there is just not enough to do.

"Being and feeling connected to others and to the wider community: having places to go things to do and people to see."
Glasgow Disability Alliance consultation response

"If all care is at home people may feel isolated. Elderly people need someone to speak to."
Active and Independent Living event, Forth Valley

"Younger people and older people both benefit from spending time together, more opportunities for them to mix should be taken."
People Know How event, Edinburgh

"One 96-year-old man has a motto: 'To talk is to live'."
Befriending Network event, Inverness

We did hear lots of good examples of community projects that do bring people together and help to reduce loneliness - for example community cafés, walking groups and cookery sessions. However, you'd like to see more action and projects. There were many suggestions about how to tackle loneliness, such as befriending or buddy systems. You also talked about peer support and how connecting people with something in common, such as their age, religion, a medical condition or shared interest can positively impact on mental and physical health. Having someone who relates to what you're going through can be more beneficial than a discussion with a professional with no direct, lived experience. Many of you highlighted the benefit of initiatives to make intergenerational connections where young people and older people can support and learn from each other.

"One of the LAC (Local Area Co-ordination) team is now a sensory champion and is working with other champions in the area to facilitate people with disabilities getting regular ear and eye health checks."
Midlothian Local Area Co-ordination Reference Group event, Dalkeith

The important role of the third sector in supporting people in communities was highlighted frequently. There was praise for the way third sector organisations can provide flexible opportunities for people to access support that statutory services can't always provide.

"Local voluntary sector organisations are not as intimidating as the professional services."
Alliance event, Clackmannanshire

"The third sector can adapt to the individual's needs and communicate with all parties, gaining a better outcome for the individual."
Alliance event, Hamilton

"People living with long term conditions often find it much easier to 'connect' with someone who has gone through similar experiences and so benefit greatly from peer support services."
Alliance event, Clydebank


  • A new mental health strategy for Scotland is being developed and it will look to create new models of managing mental health problems in primary care and reconsider our priorities including the balance between mental and physical healthcare.
  • See Me is Scotland's national programme to end mental health stigma and discrimination, enabling people who experience mental health problems to live fulfilled lives.
  • The Scottish Parliament's Equal Opportunities Committee recently published a report on their enquiry into age and social isolation in Scotland. The report made a number of recommendations, which the Scottish Government is now considering. These include raising awareness to tackle the stigma on loneliness to show what communities can do, and highlight the importance of social contact for everyone no matter what their age.


Email: Ricky Vernall

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