Report Highlights Workforce Challenges Facing Mental Health Support

Has there ever been a time when mental health was supported properly? Why is it that our mental well being is not given the same priority as physical health ?

The 2020 Mental Health Officer Report has been published. This provides data and statistics from last year – when we were in the midst of the Covid pandemic, under lockdown – it shows how local authorities were providing support through Mental Health Officers.

What is a Mental Health Officer (MHO) ?

An MHO is someone who:
• is a qualified social worker and
• has successfully completed an approved MHO training course and
• is employed by a Scottish local authority.

Within that job description there are various kinds of MHOs. An Exclusive MHO – is just that – they concentrate on mental health support. Some MHOs are used to cover other work.

In Scotland’s local authorities these are the numbers of people working as MHOs

Mental Health Officers687709699671677

In Orkney the Mental Health Officers do not primarily carry out statutory MHO work. There are 4 of them (2020) . They carried out 14.7 hours of work (Per 10,000 population) directly related to that role.

In Shetland which has 9 MHOs, they carried out 42.9 hours of work (Per 10,000 population) directly related to that role. In Scotland the average is 21.3 hours of work (Per 10,000 population).

MHO hours worked per 10,000 population 2020

As you can see Orkney is well below the Scottish average. The Western Isles has an abysmal rate of 2.3 hours (per 10,000 population) carried out by 3 MHOs.

Shetland has the most MHO posts per 100,000 population (39.35). The nine Shetland MHOs spend 98 hours each week on MHO work between them (an average of 10.9 hours per post).

Worryingly, for the whole of Scotland, people continue to leave the profession. The report states that over the last 3 years the highest number have left posts since records started in 2012.

MHO Reasons for leaving

Lorraine Gray, SSSC Chief Executive said:

“While it’s positive to see fewer local authorities reporting they are short of MHOs, there are still challenges as the number of full time MHOs needed to meet the shortfall in hours has increased to 53, up from 49 the previous year.

“Our data reports help local authorities, the Scottish Government and others with future workforce planning, including succession planning and making sure enough people are undertaking the training required to join the workforce.

“Although 89 MHOs left their posts in 2020, 51 social workers completed their MHO Award. It’s also positive to see the percentage of MHOs aged under 45 has increased from 25.8% in 2016 to 30.8% in 2020.”

When will mental health be regarded with the same priority as physical health?

The platitudes of politicians voicing their concerns over mental health services is not being translated into real action at local level in too many parts of Scotland – including Orkney.

You can access the report here: Mental Health Officers (Scotland) Report 2020

Fiona Grahame

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2 replies »

  1. Where would I have been without my empathic MHO? And where would I be now?
    I’ll copy a letter I sent to The Orcadian and TON in 2018….it’s self-explanatory….

    “Dear Editor
    I was disappointed to read that the big, new Balfour hospital is not going to include a Psychiatric Unit, and ward. I had the impression that one of the good things about the new hospital would be, that it would include various facilities which would mean that folk didn’t have to go south for treatment.
    For some reason, which is hard to explain, as it is such a good place to live, Orkney has a high incidence of depression and suicide/attempted suicide. That a very large, new hospital is being built, without this being taken into consideration, does not add up. The Orkney Mental Health Team do a good job, but they are under-staffed and under pressure and a specific, staffed psychiatric unit, would help to give them the support which they need.
    I am speaking from personal experience here. About four years ago, I ‘crashed’. Thankfully, the emergency doctor who came out to see me, listened, assessed my situation, and, rather than having me flown off to Cornhill, advised, if possible, that I should be cared for at home. My husband’s employers were very understanding, and agreed to him working from home for the time it took until I could be left alone without danger of my damaging myself. It may seem like I’m stating that a bit baldly, but it was the case. If left to myself, at that time, I would have followed what seemed to me to be the only way out of a desperate situation, and….stepped off the wheel.
    If a person has a troubled mind and a large part to that trouble, is a feeling of being alone and not seeing any point in their existence, imagine if that person then finds themself in a strange place, among strange people? It can’t help. From what I hear, the staff at Cornhill do a good job, and, maybe, for some folk to be away from their usual place, is, in fact helpful to their recovery. What I know is that, for me, and possibly many others too, it would have been a very bad thing indeed.
    Staying here, on Orkney, meant that I could look out the window at familiar sights – Wideford Hill, the lights of Kirkwall twinkling across the bay – even this can help to give a person a feeling of belonging somewhere, which can matter a lot when your tendency is to feel that you don’t, belong.
    Another factor is that, away in Aberdeen, it would have been hard for people who cared about me, including my husband, to visit me. Here, in Orkney, he was always there, and a couple of good friends called by too. One lovely woman we know, called by, with a big bag of veg. and flowers from her garden – that told me something about how much I did belong here, not……….elsewhere.
    I also was allocated a psychiatric nurse, Janet Burgon, who worked with me with understanding and sympathy – she knows the folk I know, and knows the world I inhabit here – that also helped me to feel that I ‘belonged’.
    I don’t know who makes the decisions about allocation of space in the new hospital, but I will ask them to imagine – and I do realise it is a hard thing to imagine – that they are in a state of deep distress, they feel alone, at the bottom of a dark pit – they then find themselves in a strange place, among strangers. Would it not be better, and kinder, to make sure that someone in that situation, is as near to home as possible? so that those who care about them, can visit them, and show that they care, and that that person does matter in this life?
    It’s not too late, the building isn’t finished yet. I can’t express strongly enough, how disappointed I was to see that there will be no psychiatric unit here, in Orkney, and I ask The Powers That Be, to reconsider – think a bit about it, try to imagine yourself in a situation where you might need that kind of help ( it can happen to anyone).
    Each time I go over this time in my life again, it stirs it up again, so, I try not to, but, in this case I feel that I must add my voice to those calling for more attention to what is referred to as mental health issues, and, so, I have done so, and include my name. I can understand when folk don’t want to give their name, but personally I go for the “I am Spartacus” approach, meaning that, I feel that, if we stand up and stand together, we won’t be so easy to ignore and brush under that carpet.
    For that matter, the term ‘mental health issues’ is used a lot, these days – it ruffles me a bit, as – well, it’s all too easy to put some words on something, then it becomes those words – those three word give no idea of what it’s like, to actually feel that you are losing, or have lost your mind – it’s truly and frighteningly horrible.
    We need all the help we can get – in that big hospital, is there no room for us?
    Bernie Bell

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