On Mental Health Awareness Week 2017, Shared Care Scotland Chief Executive Don Williamson shares his thoughts on the importance of short breaks to those with mental health conditions, and their carers.
“With the sunny weather, May bank holidays and lighter nights, many of us find our thoughts turning to the summer break and anticipation of the chance to finally charge our batteries, spend quality time with our families, and take a break from our usual routine. The anticipation itself can sustain us through the busy weeks of work. And we know that even the shortest break can help us revitalise, regroup and recharge.
This Mental Health Awareness Week it’s important to remember the many carers and people experiencing poor mental health who may not have a holiday to look forward to, who simply will not have the opportunity for some ‘time-out’ from their usual routine. It seems to me especially unfair that short breaks are beyond the reach of many people for whom a restful break could make such a difference to their mental health and sense of well-being. There are many reasons for this but a lack of suitable, accessible short break services that can provide the specialised care needed is perhaps the most significant.
So what’s to be done? Firstly I believe we need to acknowledge that holidays and short breaks are not a luxury but a necessity, a potential lifeline to those people affected by mental ill health. The benefits of public investment in services that can facilitate these breaks will far outweigh any costs. There is every likelihood that public money will be saved by preventing unnecessary hospital admissions or more expensive forms of crisis support.
Secondly, we need to work with carers and people experiencing mental illness to ensure we have sufficient supply of flexible, appropriate short break options that can adapt around individual needs and circumstances. By working together it is possible that simple, inexpensive solutions can be found which might actually deliver better outcomes than current approaches. The development of Self-directed Support certainly provides more scope for creativity and personalisation but this must be hand-in-hand with coordinated efforts to support an expansion of suitable specialist provision.
In a civilised society we must have higher ambitions than mere survival and life should indeed be about thriving. We all have the basic human right to the highest possible standard of health, and access to suitable short breaks for those affected by mental ill health can play a vital part in this. Many organisations we work with through our Short Breaks Fund are already delivering fantastic, innovative projects which help those with mental illness and their carers to live a full and vital life alongside their caring role. Mental Health Awareness Week reminds us that we all should be able to achieve our full potential through recreation, leisure and community life, as well as work and education: this is what can make the difference between not just surviving but thriving.”