LEADING healthcare professionals have led a call for action to reduce the alarming gap in life expectancy between Scots with mental ill health and the general population.

The shocking statistic that Scots suffering from mental ill health die on average up to 20 years earlier than the general population was discussed at a Health Inequalities Conference in Glasgow on Wednesday, 23 March.

The conference, co-hosted by mental health charities Bipolar Scotland and Support in Mind Scotland, in partnership with NHS Health Scotland, also saw the launch of a new project, Equally Fit, which will tackle health inequalities for people with serious mental illness.

Speaker Dr Alastair Cook (main picture), chairman of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland, said:  “We can’t continue to accept the fact that people with mental health problems die 15 to 20 years earlier than the average in the population. We need to find a way of shaping our services to change that situation.

“There is a whole range of positive things we can do. We need to set the goal to make that change and then all these different actions will follow behind that.”

We can’t continue to accept the fact that people with mental health problems die 15 to 20 years earlier than the average in the population
  • Dr Alastair Cook

Mental health campaigner Graham Morgan, pictured below, from advocacy group HUG (Action for Mental Health), shared his own experiences of mental health problems and the inequalities he has encountered.

He told the conference at the Glasgow Grand Central Hotel: “Today you will have heard some of the shocking statistics about our physical health. I find it hugely alarming that with my diagnosis I am statistically nearing the end of my life at the age of 53. I find it difficult to understand why the terrible health we suffer is not a national scandal and do not understand why we do not shout loudly all the time about  this basic, basic, inequality.”

He added: “We need to look at the basics of this discrimination, the need for fairness in spending on mental health and physical health. At least in England we have heard commitments to do something about this – I haven’t heard this so far in Scotland.

“We need to remember we have a right to the best health we can get; we have a right to life. The sad and tragic reality is that too many of the members of our community do not have  that right, because of the way society acts, because of our illness, because of prejudice, because of exclusion ,because of all the numerous inequalities, we die earlier, much earlier than the rest of the population.”

The conference was attended by more than 120 people from across the mental health spectrum in Scotland, including healthcare professionals and people with lived experience of mental ill health.

The afternoon session - chaired by Professor Daniel Smith of the University of Glasgow, included an 'energiser' session from Andy McKechnie and an inspirational talk entitled 'My Experience' from Michelle Howieson of Bipolar Scotland.

Alison Cairns, Chief Executive of Bipolar Scotland, said: “This is one of the most energising, uplifting and inspiring conferences I’ve ever been involved in.

“We have identified some clear health inequalities and human rights issues that have to be addressed to make sure everyone in Scotland has the right to live their life to its full potential.

“We have got a vision and a plan and can hardly wait to get started. Watch this space.”

  • Pictured above: Alison Cairns, CEO of Bipolar Scotland, and Frances Simpson, CEO of Support in Mind Scotland

Frances Simpson, Chief Executive of Support in Mind Scotland, said: “This event has confirmed not just how important tackling this issue is, but how many people are committed to being part of finding a solution.

“This is the start of a movement for change that is led by people who are affected by mental illness to give them a voice in tackling inequality.”

The call for action came on the same day the Mental Welfare Commission published six priorities it is asking the government to include in Scotland’s next mental health strategy, including setting a new target for the country to reduce the huge disparity in life expectancy between people with mental ill health and the general population.

  • Pictures by Ian Mearns and Tony Murray