Leader Alex-Cole Hamilton set out a series of proposals to tackle long waiting lists for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), alongside Liberal Democrat mental health spokesperson Jane Alliston.
These include counsellors in all schools to ensure access for every child, lowering the bar for referral for young people from deprived communities, and a single point of contact for families of those on CAMHS waiting lists.
“If your kid were to break their arm you’d expect them to be seen the same day but if they say they are experiencing mental distress, they are directed into some of the longest queues in the NHS,” said Mr Cole-Hamilton.
"Too often these waits turn distress into crisis. The reality of CAMHS is that you don’t get a referral unless critical, meaning demand is already understated.
“Successive Health Secretaries have spent years trying to spin a positive tale even as waits for young people get longer and longer. They should take a long hard look at themselves.”
Ms Alliston said: “In 2022, Scotland has a chance to do things differently. After a pandemic in which young people have sacrificed a lot to keep others safe, we should be ensuring that they get the support they need now.
"That means counsellors at every stage of education with the skills to help those in need and ensure that problems are picked up early.
“We also need to give young people a single point of contact who can provide support, direct them to the appropriate services and signpost other options too. They shouldn’t just have to go back to their GP to be told they’re still on a two-year waiting list."
Kevin Stewart, Minister for Mental Wellbeing, said there has been “extraordinary pressure” on mental health services during the pandemic.
The Scottish Government has responded with investment including the £120 million Recovery and Renewal Fund to “transform” the mental health system, he said.
“We know that schools have a crucial role to play in early intervention and prevention in children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. We want to make sure anyone who needs support can get access to appropriate services.
“We have strengthened the support available in schools by providing counselling services through schools, supported by £16m of funding per year. This is now in place across Scotland.
“In addition, our Mental Health in Schools Working Group has overseen the development of a professional learning resource for school staff, which was published in June 2021, and guidance to support whole-school approaches to mental health, which was published in August 2021. This ensures that school staff havethe information and support that they need in order to signpost and link into sources of advice and support for children, young people and their families.
“This package of commitments is designed to help ensure the right help is available, in the right place, at the right time.”