As the Scottish electorate heads to the polls on May 6 to elect a new parliament, the need for greater mental health support is likely to be at the forefront of many voters’ minds due to the pandemic shining a light on the challenges many people faced accessing provision.

We’re pleased to note the main parties’ manifestos all contained pledges to enhance mental health support. Indeed, many reflected our own 2021 manifesto for Scotland, which highlighted the vital role counselling and psychotherapy services will need to play in the country’s recovery.

Direct investment

The Scottish National Party (SNP) promised to “increase direct investment into mental health services by at least 25% and ensure that, by the end of the (next) parliament, 10% of […] frontline NHS budget will be invested in mental health”. It also promised to expand mental health support for NHS staff, “and work with staff to help shape the nature and scope of provision”.

Our BACP manifesto preempted that, calling upon parties to both “strengthen Scotland’s economic recovery from COVID-19 by supporting employers, employees and vulnerable groups through counselling in the workplace” and for “improved access and choice in psychological therapies underpinned with greater investment in NHS Scotland’s talking therapies workforce”.

Support people in crisis

Scottish Labour’s manifesto aims to improve mental health by ensuring every GP practice in Scotland has access to a dedicated mental health worker and “establishing dedicated mental health A&Es in every health board area, integrated with suicide prevention and substance misuse services, to support people in crisis”.

This closely mirrors our call for accessible community-based provision. In our manifesto, we also emphasised how “evidence has shown that direct access to professional counselling services can play a significant part in helping tackle addiction as well as healing the family and community members who’re directly affected by these unfortunate and preventable deaths”.

Scottish Labour’s Women’s manifesto also pledged to provide specific therapeutic support to women experiencing post-natal depression. This is a longstanding campaign objective for BACP, and reflects our call for enhanced counselling support for Scotland’s most vulnerable families.

Training pledge

We’re pleased to see the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ pledge to “help people train to be counsellors by offering £5,000 grants to students undertaking courses”, particularly “so that a wider range of people from diverse backgrounds are able to train”.

Their manifesto also promised to “bring the counselling profession into NHS workforce planning systems to make sure people have easier access to talking therapies and early interventions”.

This reflects an urgent call for action contained within our Scottish Elections manifesto: “Data is already showing an increase in demand for mental health services as a result of Covid-19 and at a time where workforce expansion is often given as a leading barrier to NHS mental health services being able expand quickly enough to meet the demands for help from the public. We would like NHS Scotland to capitalise on the skills of our highly trained workforce of therapists to help meet this urgent and growing demand.”

Impact of the pandemic

The Scottish Conservatives, in recognising the severe impact of the pandemic on the population’s mental health, promised that “as an immediate response, we would invest £8million in additional training for school staff and holistic support from specialist mental health charities” for children’s mental health and wellbeing. We welcome this pledge and the potential for counsellors to provide much-needed supervision support.

The Scottish Conservatives’ manifesto also contained plans for “kickstart[ing] a permanent shift towards community mental health services”, which reflected our manifesto calls for “community-based triage” and a “three-tiered community response model” to recognise and respond to bereavement, especially bereavement stemming from and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

School counselling

The Scottish Green Party highlighted counselling provision among their promises for better mental health in Scotland. They promised to “ensure counselling is available to all pupils by establishing a right to access school-based counselling provided by qualified practitioners”, helping to further strengthen the existing programme of government commitment for funded school counselling provision across Scotland’s secondary schools — a lobbying success for BACP and our members.

Recovery plan

The new ALBA Party promised a designated “mental health recovery plan” in its manifesto, as a means of “recognising the impact of the pandemic on the mental wellbeing of the nation”, reflecting the central call of our COVID-19 campaign.

We’re pleased to note ALBA’s pledge to “get serious about poverty and inequality and make health and anti-poverty policies inseparable”.

In our manifesto, we called for “free relationship counselling to lower-income families facing distress from the impact of the pandemic”, and highlighted how “the cost of relationship counselling — which is not widely commissioned — can be a significant barrier to access for those on lower incomes. At present, the relationship support sector’s ability to provide free or subsidised support rests largely on the resource it is able to draw in from clients’ fees, which has fallen through the pandemic”. We concluded this point by reminding parties “there is both a moral and fiscal argument for public investment to help address the gaps in relationship support for those on low incomes”.

Get involved

While the Scottish parties’ manifestos focused on different ways to improve mental health, we’re pleased to note how many of our calls to action and priorities were reflected in the parties’ strategies for supporting a mental health recovery in Scotland.

We encourage our members to share our manifesto and use the hashtag #StandupforCounselling to join the conversation about these proposals and their place in Scotland’s future.