mental health support

A first-of-its-kind commission has revealed the devastating impact harmful alcohol and drug use has on people’s lives, and its findings have been brought into even sharper focus as a result of the ongoing pandemic.

In its findings published today, the Renfrewshire Alcohol and Drugs Commission is the first to look at the issues for both alcohol and drugs and saw and heard first-hand evidence from more than 300 people and organisations who had their own personal or professional experience of alcohol and drug use.

mental health support

Renfrewshire has some of the highest levels of harm caused by alcohol and drug use in Scotland

  • alcohol hospital admissions – 808 per 100,000 (2018/19)
  • drug hospital admissions – 210 per 100,000 (2018/19)
  • 50 alcohol deaths in 2019
  • 50 drug deaths in 2019
  • Parental drug use involved in 38 of 70 child protection cases (October 2020).

The report highlights that people’s complex mental health needs mean they often struggled to find someone to talk to and get the right support they need, especially for young people. Long waits for mental health services, people having to turn to emergency services in a crisis and the significant trauma people have experienced were all seen as significant barriers.

While many people already access the different services available in Renfrewshire, the Commission found that there were people experiencing significant harm who should be in touch with treatment services but weren’t – known as hidden harm – and those who are in contact said they really need services to wrap around them and their families.

Further support is also needed to further tackle young people using alcohol and drugs at a young age through mental health initiatives, education, such as Personal and Social Education lessons, and adolescent-focused alcohol and drug recovery services.

In response, Renfrewshire councillors will next week consider the first set of funding proposals from a £2million package of investment from the Council to tackle some of the challenges raised.

The commission began in 2019 and brought in a range of highly respected health, social care, justice, third sector and community experts. The coronavirus pandemic led to the Commission extending its research to consider how this might further impact their findings.

Findings include:

  • the pandemic has exacerbated existing issues like loneliness and isolation, often key drivers for alcohol and drug use, and highlights the importance of feeling part of the community to supporting recovery
  • support for mental health issues is perceived as being difficult to access or not there at all, with particular concern noted for the impact of poor mental health on children and young people
  • the availability and presence of alcohol and drugs and how easy it is to get them was an issue across all ages
  • urgent work is needed to help people access mental health resources as well as enabling community and voluntary groups to provide much-needed outreach work to link people with existing services.

Alan McNiven, Chief Executive of Engage Renfrewshire, said that the commission focused on real lived experience of people affected by alcohol and drugs and that partnership working will enable Renfrewshire to offer the much-needed community and peer support for both prevention and recovery.

Alan said: “I was keen to be involved as I knew the commission would be connecting with existing strategies active in Renfrewshire around education, poverty, culture, employment – all areas of work that Renfrewshire’s Third Sector Network has connections and commitments to. The work of the commission adds to Renfrewshire’s partnership approach – an approach that seeks to achieve the best possible outcomes for Renfrewshire as a whole, as well as for individuals who require our care and support.

“The engagement sessions ensured we heard from the wider community – service users, young people, and third sector delivery organisations. It was vitally important that the voices of people with lived experience and those who work in alcohol and drug services influenced the commission’s enquiry and the final recommendations.

“Partnership and collaboration are at the heart of the community planning approach in Renfrewshire. Strong cross-sector and multi-agency partnerships already exist here, but we need more. The commission identified Renfrewshire’s third sector agencies as providing important services around the alcohol and drugs agenda. The Third Sector also brings important experience to the collective leadership approach that will be required to properly deliver the proposed recommendations.”

Following the publication of the report, Renfrewshire Council has pledged £2million funding to target the Commission’s recommendations, with an initial package of measures being considered by councillors at a meeting next week.

Funding proposals will include:

  • £510k for mental health programmes – seen as key drivers for both prevention and recovery – including funding for an intensive support pilot for children and young people, a crisis mental health service for the community and for a quicker service-lead response to people affected by trauma.
  • £550k for an outreach, community-centred model for people not engaged in alcohol and drug services, peer-to-peer support and a Recovery Change Fund for community and voluntary sector organisations to access.
  • £150k for education and health improvement as well as a further study to better understand the hidden harm of alcohol and drugs – people who haven’t reached out for help.

Chair of the Renfrewshire Alcohol and Drugs Commission and Renfrewshire Health and Social Care Partnership Integrated Joint Board, Councillor Jacqueline Cameron, said:

“The coronavirus pandemic has had a big impact on people struggling with alcohol and drug use and we know isolation has made it worse for many people and their families across Renfrewshire. What has been made very clear is the amount of hidden suffering that so many people suffer, unable to reach out and access support and sometimes not feeling part of a community that can support them.

“We hope this will fundamentally transform the support that people who use drugs and alcohol and their families can access when they need it most. The pandemic has brought these issues into sharp focus and we are determined to make a difference. Our new approach will make it easier for people to access the support within their own community and be there whenever they need it.”

The full report can be read on the council’s website – www.renfrewshire.gov.uk/Alcohol-Drugs-Commission.