A FEW weeks ago, I was delighted to be invited to support 'Lean On Me' 100 Knees Challenge for Suicide Awareness, during a visit to the Scottish Martial Arts Centre, in Tullibody. The challenge required me to do 100 knee kicks into a pad as quickly as possible. This challenge came as a result of an invitation from Craig McIntosh at the Scottish Martial Arts Centre, who is promoting the ‘Lean on Me’ in memory of one of their members who tragically committed suicide.

Any death is of course a tragedy, especially for the family left behind to mourn the loss of a much loved one, but suicide even more so as it can be preventable with the right help and support for the individual. Mental Health has been an issue on which I have campaigned and raised both in parliament and in the constituency, and so I think it is fantastic that the club are doing so much to raise awareness of this issue, and I thank them for inviting me along and for giving me the opportunity to take part and support their cause. I would encourage anyone else who wants to show their support

However, while on the one hand we see the work being done by clubs, charities and other organisations working on the frontline of mental health, on the other hand we see targets for mental healthcare, especially for younger people, being missed.

A recent report that came out last week showed that the number of young people having to wait a year or more for specialist mental health treatment has trebled over the last year. This Is not just a serious problem now, but it is stockpiling issues and costs for our NHS and communities in the near future.

NHS Scotland is facing real challenges, with consultant and nursing vacancies rates are at records highs with over 2,000 vacant nursing and midwifery posts, and over 400 vacant consultant posts. Spending on private agency staff has increased by over £9 million in a year, to nearly £176m, and in 2017 a £400 million deal was signed with agencies for locum staff, despite previous ministerial pledges to drive down the usage of temporary staff.

Meanwhile, on one of the most important measures, the life expectancy for men in Scotland is 77.0, 2.2 years lower than the UK average, and 81.1 for women, 1.8 years lower than the UK average. Now some may try and blame this on Westminster, but it should be remembered that Scotland’s block grant funding from Westminster and the UK Government is going up, with £20bn extra for the NHS pledged for services across the UK. Mental health and the NHS needs to stop being used as a political football and prioritised in national debate. We need honest and open cross-party discussions to address the challenges of the NHS and figure out a way to keep the NHS free at the point of use, while taking advantage of the new technologies we have at our disposal in the 21st Century.

Back in April, I spoke in a debate on young people's mental health, in which I raised the importance of accessible support such as the '111' crisis line, which is available to all across the United Kingdom. As we have ‘999’ for physical emergencies, the ‘111’ helpline is there for those who have mental healthcare emergencies. It is vital we have these resources as they may just be the difference between life and death. If anyone is experiencing any issues please do call ‘111’ and select option 2 for NHS Scotland.

As always, if you have any issues/concerns please contact me at my office on 38 Primrose Street, Alloa, by phone on 01259 764407, or by email –luke.grahamoffice@parliament.uk