Mental health topped the political agenda when the National Rural Mental Health Forum, convened by Support in Mind Scotland, held its first online Scottish Parliamentary Election Hustings.

All parties were represented by MSPs at the online event on Friday 5 March, with Emma Harper (SNP), Oliver Mundell (Conservative), Claudia Beamish (Labour), Alison Johnstone (Green) and Beatrice Wishart (Liberal Democrat) all setting out their stall in their opening remarks.

There was unanimity across the political spectrum that mental health in rural Scotland is high on the parties’ priorities.

Ninety-nine members of the National Rural Mental Health Forum registered to attend and a broad range of questions was asked.

Samaritans questioned the panel on how the MSPs would tackle loneliness and isolation for young people if they were in government after the May election, whilst the British Veterinary Association raised the importance of supporting professionals, like veterinary surgeons, who have been key workers throughout the Covid crisis under great pressure.

Support in Mind Scotland’s Fiona Thompson and Ben Lejac scrutinised the MSPs by alerting them to the need to address digital inequality in rural Scotland and to recognise the importance of the Third Sector and hyper-local communities in supporting our communities with their mental health and wellbeing.

Students were also represented with a Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) student putting pressure on the politicians to act on ensuring that anyone that needs psychiatric or psychological treatment should get it when needed, no matter where you live, plus access should be given even if the person isn’t taking medication.

Frances Simpson, CEO of Support in Mind Scotland, welcomed the conversations that the event generated. She said: “I am grateful to the five MSPs to come here today and I believe that these hustings have been informative, inspiring, thought-provoking and that we have had a rich conversation.

"Human rights, stigma, parity of esteem have all been raised and recognised, along with the great benefits from peer support. There has also been a recognition by the political representatives of the importance of community and that has come up over and over again today. Overall the consensus in the room was absolutely tangible, encouraging and hopeful for the future”.

Jim Hume, Convener of the National Rural Mental Health Forum said: “I am pleased with our turnout of members for this our first Scottish Parliamentary Election Hustings. Members were engaged and engrossed in debate throughout the event and I was especially pleased to see that all the political Parties shared a passion to tackle mental health in our rural communities.

"Covid has had a negative impact on mental health throughout Scotland and the need to address that is more than ever.

"I hope that their political willing shall lead to improvements to mental health and wellbeing going forward. The National Rural Mental Health Forum has grown from an idea by Support in Mind Scotland and a handful of other organisations, to an active network for change with over 190 membership organisations in just five years.

"The Forum believes that it is everyone’s business to tackle mental health and it shall continue to thrive to put mental health at the top of everyone's agenda."

  • A video recording of the event will be available later this week