CHAT column, December 2020

First published in John O’Groat Journal in December 2020

Although one in four is widely cited in the UK as the number of people who suffer/will suffer from a mental health problem, in this Covid-19 time it would be very difficult to estimate just how many will be affected

Highlands and Islands MSP, Rhoda Grant, has found that Caithness people with complex mental health problems who need psychological services can sometimes wait nearly two years for appointments.

Even for Near Me appointments, the longest wait was 435 days and for telephone appointments it was 693 days.

There were areas where patients were seen more quickly by community mental health teams. For instance, routine referrals for dementia were seen within two to four weeks, urgent referrals within 48 hours.

However, Mrs Grant also discovered that the psychiatric out-patients service, delivered from Inverness, had about a six month wait for new referrals.

Anyone on social media would have read the harrowing stories of folk trying to get help. There are local groups who offer support; one such group is Listening Ear – Caithness. They are a charitable organisation with a Facebook page whose trained volunteers offer confidential support for anyone experiencing a crisis due to a decline in mental health or any other circumstances. They can also meet face to face and can be contacted on 01847 891371 or email-

No More Lost Souls is another group offering help. The team of volunteers offer a peer to peer support listening service to relieve the stigma of talking about mental health and are available to anyone who wishes to share their feelings and speak about their experiences. They can be contacted via their Facebook page and have over 2000 followers.

CHAT have received feedback about how difficult it is to get help with mental health issues especially during ‘out of office hours’. Police Scotland have seen a huge increase in dealing with mental health incidents, as has the Scottish Ambulance Service. Police will always attend such incidents but are first to admit they might not be the appropriate professionals to deal with it.

We have been told about folk who are put in Police cells as there is no other ‘place of safety’, for them; one even told me of being put into Porterfield prison for a period of time and that he could not understand what he had done wrong to end up there. He said he punched the walls in frustration until his hands bled, then ended up in handcuffs for hours.

One told of having to take a family member, in the middle of the night, to New Craigs in Inverness by taxi, at a cost of £130 each way, because there was no help locally.

NHS Highland have recruited more staff into their Mental Health teams. including nurses and Advanced Nurse Practitioners, and are advertising other posts. They are actively looking at ways to offer more services to patients needing help with mental health issues.

Recently CHAT representatives were invited to a multi agency Mental Health Virtual Workshop where just under 100 representatives from a variety of voluntary and health groups, police and politicians came together to address mental health issues in Caithness.

I am optimistic that with this initiative we are on the right road and really hope it will lead to giving the community something it needs – Hope for the Future. 

Ron Gunn
Vice Chair

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