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IHAWKES election special part III: Professor Rory O’Connor

Current Affairs

IHAWKES election special part III: Professor Rory O’Connor

Have the major Scottish political parties prioritised mental health in their manifestos?

Although nearly half of all ill-health among people under 65 years of age is attributable to mental ill-health, it is estimated that only about a quarter of those with mental health problems are in treatment (Centre for Economic Performance, 2012).   In addition, a recent analysis has revealed the historic and chronic under-funding of mental health research in the UK (MQ Research, 2015). Add to this the rising rates of suicide in the UK; there are approximately 6,000 deaths each year, with more than three quarters of all suicide deaths accounted for by men (ONS, 2015). The personal costs of suicide are devastatingly clear but many people do not know that the economic burden of suicide is also vast. Take Scotland, for example: it is estimated that the economic and social cost of each death by suicide is £1,290,000 (Platt et al., 2006).   Taken together, it is self-evident, therefore, that the challenge of improving mental health research and treatment is urgent and long overdue. In recent months, mental health has become more visible on the political agenda. However, I was keen to look beyond the media representation to investigate to what extent mental health features in the manifestos of the four major Scottish parties (based on having MPs and/or MSPs). To do so, I simply searched for any mention of mental health in their manifestos. Here’s what I found:

Scottish Conservatives (http://www.scottishconservatives.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Scottish-Manifesto_GE15.pdf)

There are two mentions of mental health in their manifesto. They will “provide significant new support for mental health benefiting thousands of people claiming out-of-work benefits or being supported by Fit for Work.” The only other reference to mental health is in terms of using social impact bonds and payment by results with a focus on mental health (as well as youth unemployment and homelessness).

Scottish Greens (http://www.scottishgreens.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2015/03/SGP-Westminster-2015.pdf)

There is only a single mention of mental health in their manifesto. The Scottish Greens aim to improve both physical and mental health by tackling poverty and health inequalities including via the Living Wage as well as affordable housing and a fairer social security system.

Scottish Labour (http://www.scottishlabour.org.uk/blog/entry/the-scottish-labour-manifesto-2015)

There are 12 clear references to mental health in the Scottish Labour manifesto. They highlight the scale of the challenge of mental health as well as the 10-fold increase in young people waiting more than a year to be treated by mental health services. They also mention the issues of parity of esteem with those with physical health problems as well as the need to address the, often debilitating, consequences of mental health stigma. They pledge to invest £200 million in a new Mental Health Fund to help those who are vulnerable and to “improve child mental health by focusing on prevention and early intervention.”

Scottish Liberal Democrats (http://www.scotlibdems.org.uk/manifesto2015)

A document search yields at least 17 hits for mental health within the Scottish Liberal Democrat manifesto. A guarantee of equal care for mental health is on the front page of their manifesto. The Lib Dems pledge that the Scottish Parliament will have the resources it needs “to make sure mental health has equal status with physical health”. There is also specific mention of helping “people struggling not to harm themselves” by providing emergency help at A&E. In the context of helping people find work, they pledge to help provide work placements tailored for those with mental health problems. They also pledge to fund the NHS properly, “ending the discrimination against mental health which has existed too long, and delivering equal care.” They also highlight the scale of mental ill-health, the stigma faced by many and the difficulty accessing services. They propose to expand the provision of psychological treatments as well as developing “new provision to support young people who need urgent mental health support”. If pilots as successful, they may also role out the provision of trained mental health professionals in A&E departments. They also plan to simplify and streamline back to work support for those with mental health problems. Furthermore, they will also establish “a world-leading mental health research fund, investing £50 million to further our understanding of mental illness and develop more effective treatments.” Support for veterans with mental health problems is also mentioned.

 Scottish National Party (http://votesnp.com/docs/manifesto.pdf)

Mental health is mentioned four times in the SNP manifesto. Within the context of ensuring fairness in the welfare system, they “will demand an urgent review of the conditionality and sanctions regime” taking account of the “needs of people with mental health issues.” They also pledge to increase the £15 million already committed to a mental health innovation fund, stating that they will “increase this investment to £100 million over the next 5 years”. They will also focus on treatments in the primary care sector and aim to focus on investment in child and adolescent mental health services.


Mental health appears to be a priority for Scottish Labour, the Scottish Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party. It is encouraging to see the specific pledges made by each of these parties in terms of the provision of mental health services. However, as a researcher who knows first hand how poorly funded mental health research is, I was particularly pleased to see the Scottish Liberal Democrats pledge to establish a world class mental health research fund – with funding ear-marked. Whoever (and in whatever configuration) is in power after May 7th, it is incumbent on each of us to hold the Government to their election promises!

Disclaimer: I acknowledge that my search strategy was crude but each manifesto was subject to the same ‘analysis’, and therefore, I believe it provides a valid (albeit high level) overview of the each party’s pledges on mental health. Due to idiosyncrasies of search functions in pdfs, I may have missed one or two mentions of mental health in the manifestos that contained multiple references to mental health.


Centre for Economic Performance (2012). How mental illness loses out in the NHS. A Report by the Centre for Economic Performance’s Mental Health Policy Group. http://cep.lse.ac.uk/pubs/download/special/cepsp26.pdf

MQ Research (2015). UK mental health research funding: MQ landscape analysis. http://www.joinmq.org/news-opinion/entry/new-analysis-reveals-historic-under-funding-of-uk-mental-health-research

ONS (2015). Statistical Bulletin. Suicides in the United Kingdom, 2013 Registrations. http://ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/subnational-health4/suicides-in-the-united-kingdom/2013-registrations/suicides-in-the-united-kingdom–2013-registrations.html

Platt, S et al (2006). Evaluation of the first phase of Choosing Life: The national strategy and action plan to prevent suicide in Scotland: Annex 2 – The Economic Costs of Suicide in Scotland in 2004. Edinburgh: The Scottish Government http://www.gov.scot/Resource/Doc/146980/0038521.pdf

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