The 13th - 19th of May marks Mental Health Awareness Week 2019. In this guest blog, Jim Hume, Convener of the National Rural Mental Health Forum, introduces the initiative and it's goals.

Tackling mental health with the National Rural Mental Health Forum

Just over two years ago, first time research was undertaken by the mental health charity Support in Mind Scotland and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC). We know that 1 in 4 experience poor mental health at some point in their lives, but this research explored what it is like to live in rural Scotland with poor mental health. The research highlighted that access to services can be a difficulty as services are often in larger towns and transport is an issue for those with poorer mental health. That isolation being made worse by remoteness, stigma and fear.

The research also found that people experiencing poor mental health in rural areas includes depression, suicidal thoughts, self-harming behaviour and anxiety, no matter age, gender or location. Although the research did not suggest that living in rural Scotland means that you will have poorer mental health than living in urban Scotland, it did dispel the myth that if you live rurally then your mental health will be good. Stigma in rural parts of Scotland may differ, in that people tend to know each other more than urban, and that that lack of anonymity makes it more difficult for people to seek help at an early stage.

Research tells us that asking for help is the first very important step in dealing with mental health issues and starting the process of recovering. Talking openly about mental health and how poor mental health can affect people is vital to challenge and remove the stigma that can surround this common condition.

Importantly, the research clearly highlighted that people want to connect before their mental health crisis occurs, locally, in their communities and in non-clinical settings.

Due to this research, a group of organisations from the third, public and private sectors have got together to form the National Rural Mental Health Forum, including RSPB Scotland. This Forum has around 100 organisations as its members.

Forum members from across Scotland at recent meeting

The Forum is furthering research, to gain a good evidence base of what people want to improve their wellbeing and to inform policy of decision makers. It is also using its membership to highlight the commonness of poor mental health through the members’ newsletters, magazines and events across Scotland, plus encouraging members, staff to be trained in mental health first aid, which gives people the knowledge of how to approach a friend or colleague who they may have concerns with and how to connect them to get help.

RSPB Scotland has already started mental health first aid training staff, are active members of the Forum, have started a social prescribing project in Shetland, where GPs can prescribe nature to their patients, as access to nature can be good for your wellbeing and mental health through lowering blood pressure, reducing anxiety and increasing happiness.

Members’ logos of National Rural Mental Health Forum

  • I had mental health problems and even being alone with nature, I felt uneasy. On one of the forums I learned about the existence of medical cannabis and it helped me recover. I am sure that it will be useful for everyone to learn more resources and find the key to the health of the body and soul.