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Mental health

This advice applies to Scotland

This information applies to Scotland

What is mental health?

Mental health is sometimes described as 'emotional health' or 'well being'. It is an important part of overall health and can be adversely affected by life events, such as the end of a relationship or a bereavement, as well as by mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression.

Mental wellbeing means different things to different people but is likely to involve feelings of being in control, a degree of satisfaction with life, self esteem, optimism, and a sense of belonging.

What are mental health problems?

Mental health problems are conditions which may or may not be temporary and which affect a person’s mental wellbeing. The most common are anxiety and depression, but others include schizophrenia, personality disorders, eating disorders and dementia.

Mental health problems can affect different people in different ways and will vary in how long they last and how they affect people’s everyday lives. People can and do recover from mental health problems. The length of time it takes to recover will be different for different people.

What can you do if you think you have a mental health problem?

There are a number of things you can do if you think you have a mental health problem. Many people find it difficult to ask for help but there are a wide range of services available and you can chose the services that appeal to you. For example, one person might find it easier to phone a helpline rather than speak to a GP face-to-face. You could choose to:

The Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) have on their website online guides and a list of some services where people can self-refer if they are concerned about their mental health.

Feeling suicidal

Some people who are experiencing a mental health problem may find themselves feeling suicidal. The Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) have produced a helpful booklet called 'Suicide - living with your thoughts' containing strategies for dealing with your thoughts, suggestions about how to keep yourself safe and a directory of sources of help. The booklet can be found on the SAMH website at .


Some people who are experiencing  a mental health problem may self-harm as a way of coping with emotional distress. The people around a person who self-harms can often be affected by it too. NHS Health Scotland have produced a booklet called 'Talking About Self-Harm', which provides information and suggests sources of further help. It can be found on the NHS Health Scotland website at

What to do in an emergency

If you need help urgently, you could call Breathing Space, NHS 24 or 999 for an ambulance.

If you are feeling suicidal, have a plan to attempt suicide and the means to carry it out now, you can call 999. You can stay on the line and talk to someone while you wait for help to arrive.

If you are concerned about someone who you think needs help urgently, you can call social services or NHS 24. Call 999 if you can’t get through anywhere else.

What can you do if you are concerned about someone else's mental health?

If you are concerned about someone else's mental health and it feels appropriate, you could try asking them how they are. Sometimes just talking to someone who is willing to listen, can be very helpful and make people feel less alone with their problems.

If the person has been having problems for some time, you may want to check if they know where to get more help. You could suggest any of the sources of help listed above.

You could also contact the local authority social work department as the local authority has specific duties to investigate, assess and support someone who has mental health problems in the community.

Sometimes the situation may be very serious and the person may need medical help right away. There are a number of things you can do in an emergency (see above).

Going to your GP

Going to your GP may be the first step you take towards getting help for your mental health problem. Your GP might suggest a number of things:

  • you might be referred to a counsellor or therapist
  • you might be prescribed medication like anti-depressants
  • you might be referred to a specialist who may be part of your local community health team e.g. a psychiatrist.

If you have a preference about what type of treatment you would like to receive, you should raise this with your GP.

If you’re not currently registered with a GP, you can find details of local GP surgeries on the National Service Directory on the NHS inform website at

Medical records

You may be concerned about your GP or other healthcare professional recording any details about your mental health on your medical records. You have a right to see your own medical records and if you disagree with anything you can ask for the information to be changed. NHS inform has more information about accessing your health records on its website at

Your medical records will not be released to people who are not involved in your medical care without your consent, except under very specific circumstances. There is information about confidentiality on the NHS inform website at

Getting help in the community

Many people who want help for a mental health problem are able to get the help they need in their community, whether this is through their GP or a community health team.

There are often local support groups for people with mental health problems. A local association for mental health may be able to provide a list of groups, as may some national groups. Breathing Space is a confidential phoneline for anyone in Scotland feeling low, anxious or depressed to phone.

Local authorities have specific duties to people with mental health problems and may be able to provide a range of services following a community care assessment.

Independent advocacy

If you are looking for support and are finding it hard to get the support you want, you might want to find an independent advocate. An independent advocate is someone who can help you find the information you need, help you express your opinions and make your own decisions. They can also speak on your behalf in situations where you feel unable to do so.

You should not have to pay to use an independent advocate. Health boards and local authorities have a legal duty to meet the costs of independent advocacy for people suffering from mental illness.

The Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance works to promote independent advocacy. It publishes an online directory of advocacy organisations across Scotland on its website at

If you are worried that your mental health might get worse, you could talk to an independent advocate about whether to write an advance statement or to have a named person.

Getting help in hospital

Some people with mental health problems will need to go into hospital. You can be admitted to a hospital either with your consent or in some circumstances without your consent.

If you have agreed to go to hospital voluntarily, the staff cannot give you any treatment without your consent. You can also leave hospital when you want to although you should first discuss this with the hospital staff. If the staff do not think you are well enough to leave, they may decide to detain you in hospital.

You can be admitted to hospital without your consent. This is sometimes called being sectioned or being detained. You might be able to appeal against the decision to detain you. The rules about being admitted to hospital without your consent and your rights while you are in hospital are complicated. To find out more, you could contact the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland. The Scottish Government has also produced a guide to consent to treatment that is available on its website at

Advance statements about treatment

If you have a mental health problem and are concerned about the types of treatment that you might receive if you become ill, you can write an advance statement. This is a written statement, drawn up and witnessed when you are well, setting out your views about the treatment that you would prefer to receive or not receive if you become mentally ill and are too ill to make decisions at that time. For example you might have views about whether you would like to be given certain medications, therapies or certain types of treatment such as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

The Mental Welfare Commission has produced a guide to advance statements, as well as an advance statement template with some completed examples. These materials can be found on the Mental Welfare Commission website at

Choosing someone to look after your interests (a named person)

If you are likely to need compulsory treatment for your mental health problem, you can appoint a named person to safeguard and represent your interests. This person will be involved in decisions about any treatment given under compulsory measures. They will have the same rights as you to be notified, attend and be represented at a Mental Health Tribunal which has to deal with applications for compulsory measures.

A named person can be anyone of 16 or over that you trust and who has a good understanding of what you might want or not want. Your named person could be a relative or a friend. There is a comprehensive guide about appointing a named person on the Scottish Government website at


A carer is someone who regularly cares for and supports a person with a mental health problem. The carer may be a spouse, a relative, a friend or a neighbour and may not even describe themselves as a carer. The carer does not have to live with the person they support as they may, for example, provide emotional support from a distance. If someone helps a person with a mental health problem as part of their job, they are not considered a carer in this sense.

A carer is not the same as a named person although they can become a named person.

The rights and views of carers must be taken into consideration as much as possible when any decisions are being made about care and treatment for the person with the mental health problem.

There is information about the rights of carers on the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland website at, including a good practice guide for practitioners and carers. There is also a guide to the rights of carers on the Scottish Government website at

Help for carers

There is more information about how carers can get help on our page Carers: help and support.

There is also information about help for carers on the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland website at Equal Partners in Care is an online resource developed by NHS Education Scotland and Scottish Social Services Council. The practice guidance section has links to guidance and good practice for supporting carers of people with mental health problems. It is available on the Knowledge Network website at

Human rights and discrimination

You may be concerned that treatment you have received for your mental health problem has breached your human rights, for example, your right to respect for private and family life or your right not to be treated in an inhuman or degrading way. If you think a public authority, such as the NHS, has breached your human rights, you will need to get specialist advice.

If you have a mental health problem or you are perceived to have a mental health problem, you may experience discrimination. This means that you may be treated unfairly because of your mental health, for example, at work or when you are trying to access goods or services. This may amount to disability discrimination.

If you think your human rights are being breached or that you are being treated unfairly because of a mental health problem, you can get advice about what to do.

Further help

Breathing Space

Breathing Space is a free and confidential phoneline service for any individual who is experiencing low mood or depression. It is part of the Scottish Government strategy called Choose Life to provide support for people who feel low and may feel suicidal.

Breathing Space
Helpline: 0800 83 85 87

Mental Welfare Commission

The Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland is an independent statutory body which has a duty to safeguard the interests of people who are mentally unwell through illness (or who have a learning disability), whether in hospital or in the community. It has a particular duty to check that practitioners abide by the principles governing provision of services and compulsory treatment and to promote best practice. Anyone with a mental disorder or her/his carers can contact the Mental Welfare Commission.

Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland
Thistle House
91 Haymarket Terrace
EH12 5HE

Freephone for service users and carers: 0800 389 6809
Textphone callers please dial 18001 before freephone number to access RNID relay assist
Tel: 0131 313 8777
Fax: 0131 313 8778

NHS inform

NHS inform is a national health information service for Scotland. It aims to provide general information on medical conditions and patient rights; answers to commonly asked health questions; information on health and welfare topics; a dedicated website with health information translated into other languages called Health in my language; links to local information across Scotland and an online enquiry service.

NHS inform
Tel: 0800 22 44 88
Textphone users: 18001 0800 22 44 88
Information in other languages:

NHS Living Life

NHS Living Life is a telephone counselling service based on a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) approach. The service is available to anyone over the age of 16 suffering low mood, mild to moderate depression and/or anxiety. The service can be accessed either by referral from a GP or by phoning the service directly on 0800 328 9655. Calls are free and confidential. Callers are asked to provide some details and then arrangements are made to receive an assessment appointment to discuss the service and how help can be provided. There is more information on the NHS 24 website at


Samaritans offers confidential, emotional support, on the telephone, face to face, or online, to anyone who is feeling distress or despair. You do not have to be feeling suicidal to contact Samaritans.

PO Box 9090

Helpline: 08457 90 90 90 (Monday to Sunday 24 hours a day)
Helpline email:

Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH)

SAMH provides information about mental health issues for the public, carers, and interested organisations.

Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH)
Brunswick House
51 Wilson Street
G1 1UZ

Tel: 0141 530 1000
Fax: 0141 530 1001

The Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance (SIAA)

The Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance (SIAA) promotes independent advocacy in Scotland. It produces a number of leaflets about different types of advocacy and has a 'find an advocate' page on its website at to help you find advocacy organisations in your area.

Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance
69a George Street

Tel: 0131 260 5380
Email via contact form on website at

Steps for Stress

Steps for Stress is part of a Scottish Government campaign to provide information about stress and to offer practical advice and signposting to sources of help. More information about Steps for Stress can be found on the Steps for Stress website at

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