Mental Wealth

There were two amendments at the Autumn 2018 SNP Conference which I felt moved to speak on:

11. Whole-school approach to mental health provision
Conference acknowledges that 2018 is the Year of Young People and that in partnership with the third sector, the Scottish Government has tasked a group of 22 young people with gathering evidence and offering solutions on how young people’s mental health services in Scotland can be improved.

Conference acknowledges the challenges in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and welcomes the new CAMHS Taskforce, backed with £5 million of investment, to reshape and improve services and ensure that young people have access to support when they need it.

Conference affirms that investment in prevention is crucial if we are to tackle the root causes of mental ill health and notes with concern the Mental Health Foundation’s research that 33% of young people aged 18 to 24 in Scotland have experienced suicidal feelings because of stressful situations while 24% have self-harmed.

Conference believes that teachers need the right training and support to explore emotional wellbeing in schools to help prevent mental ill health from developing and escalating into crisis. Conference therefore backs the Mental Health Foundation’s campaign to create a “whole-school approach” to mental wellbeing by supporting mental health training for all teachers and support staff.


20. Adverse Childhood Experiences

Conference notes that across Scotland there are still many children who are growing up with Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), a term that covers abuse, physical and emotional neglect and household adversity, the effects of which can cause chronic stress responses and have a lasting impact on children as they grow into adults.

Conference notes research which suggests that generally, but not specifically, instances of ACEs rise with the level of deprivation that a child is living in while understanding that there are no published studies to date of the prevalence specifically of ACEs among the general population of Scotland.

Conference notes what it sees as the benefits of early intervention and addressing ACEs and considers that such an approach has a positive impact on the person as well as society as a whole.

Conference further notes the view that, in order to mitigate against these experiences, a greater understanding must be achieved among policy makers and that focus should lie on prevention, resilience and enquiry and calls upon the Scottish Government to commission an ACE specific study of the Scottish population to determine how many people are affected and what steps can be taken for prevention and healing of ACEs.


I rarely consider speaking at conference, or at all, unless I feel confident in that I have anything relevant to impart and the experience necessary to justify my contribution. This was one of those occasions. I was not called to speak at either motion due to the great number of cards in support – a testament to the necessity and support for the two topics.

Seeing as it’s World Mental Health Day, I thought I’d cobble together the thoughts I had into a post.

I was a good student. Top marks at school in every subject; exemplary in extracurricular activities; active and busy every day of the week. I won certificates from Guildhall School of Music & Drama for public speaking & starred in school plays; I represented my school on the quiz team, at science fairs, writing competitions; I played multiple musical instruments; I even helped out the teacher on more than a few specialist projects. I barely missed out on being named School Dux.

I was a good student. But I was miserable.

Whenever I failed to bring in homework, or didn’t do classwork, the teacher simply couldn’t understand: I was clearly a very intelligent & hard-working child, and always obeyed the rules. Why would a boy who demonstrably could do the work, not do the work? “Couldn’t be bothered,” they assumed. “Lazy.” “Doesn’t care.” Never mind that I agonized for hours some nights over homework, but was so unsure of what to write that I couldn’t even commit pencil to paper. I would rather be accused of laziness than write a wrong answer – after all, I was an intelligent, hard-working child. Never mind that I didn’t understand what was asked of me, but was simply too afraid to ask, for fear of accusations I was “acting up.” “Don’t be stupid, you understand full well what to do.” Even if I didn’t.

I kept going. I managed through most of Primary School, and even if I was miserable, I had good friends and a good family to support me, as well as teachers who at least attempted to meet me halfway. High School was different. The teachers had hundreds of students to keep track of instead of a few dozen. I went to a different high school from my primary classmates, so the familiarity and trust built up over seven years was lost, a vacuum of understanding and tolerance. But I kept trying, even as I cried myself to sleep over trigonometry homework that I simply couldn’t understand. How could a top student be failing something that everyone else in his class was doing with no trouble at all?

The PE teachers couldn’t guarantee my personal safety from violence – “it’s sports, this happens.” I was moved from the top Maths class down – when my entire understanding of school life was based on the idea that, if nothing else, I was in the top class for everything, it utterly destroyed me. I had extracurricular activities every single day, at lunch and in the afternoons. Many times I simply skipped eating, so afraid I was of being late and holding everyone else back. If I ever dared to prioritise these over my schoolwork, I was threatened with being taken out of them altogether. School, after all, was more important than things that made me happy.

I didn’t make it to third year. The stress of the upcoming tests was overwhelming. I refused to go to school, using any excuse I could think of to escape. Sometimes I would even let Mum drive me to the school, only to hide in the toilets for entire classes, or run off to the nearby reservoir and hide in the bushes by the water. Everything was fine, I would assure her, praying that the school wouldn’t phone to check if I was sick. Eventually, it got too much for me. One day, I had a blinding headache. Literally blinding: I “whited out,” as if I was snowblind. Mum took me to hospital, I got scanned. Fearing the worst – an aneurysm, or even a brain haemorrhage – the doctors gave me a lumbar puncture to check for bleeding. Complications of that procedure left me bedridden for six months, and two years of recovery. No way was I going to be able to go back to school.

I was free of those responsibilities. But I was still miserable.

Nobody seemed to know what was wrong with me. My mother, of course, did everything she could, and found answers. In time, I got a diagnosis. An explanation. From then on, things started to look up. No longer did I feel constricted by expectations and demands for perfection that I could never achieve. No more did I agonize over what I couldn’t do. It was still difficult, turbulent, and painful – but that diagnosis gave me help, and it gave me hope.

All it took was a near-death experience.

The more I think about those experiences – admittedly, I try not to – the more I think of all those who didn’t make it. I think of all my classmates who experienced ACEs, but were never identified. Some girls became pregnant while I was still attending school – which was, again, only until 3rd year. Some boys “left” for “another school” after assaulting a fellow pupil or teacher – a few of them didn’t even make it to 30, through violence, drugs, or otherwise. Our mental health can be affected any number of ways, from ACEs, to poverty, to the political environment.

This is why it is so crucially important to continue the recent expansion of mental health studies and services. I had everything going for me on paper. But all those top marks, all those awards and commendations, all those accolades, were meaningless – because failure to ascertain my mental health issues led to a failure in my education, my physical health, and my opportunities for the future. I felt like my life wasn’t worth living – after all, if I couldn’t be happy, then what was the point of school at all? Why even bother going for my GCSEs, Highers, Diplomas, Degrees, Doctorates, anything, if I was going to be be just as miserable then as I was at school?

That diagnosis saved my life, and set me on the course I’m on today. I managed to balance my education and home life to the point where I could achieve a degree and be happy. I started to overcome the health issues exacerbated by my mental health problems. And, conveniently enough, I started to take a more active interest in the world around me. I felt part of it again, rather than an aberration it sought to expunge. Life was worth living.

About this time, I rediscovered one of my favourite authors, Robert E. Howard. There’s a brilliant film, The Whole Wide World, based on Novalyne Price’s One Who Walked Alone: it which relates the following quote from Howard to Price:

To make life worth living a man or woman has to have a great love or a great cause.

Well, we in the SNP have a great love, and a great cause, and it’s one and the same – the people of Scotland. They are our great love, and our great cause. It is why we do what we do, and why we must do what we must.

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