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New mental health support

Helping people cope during COVID-19.

Additional support to help people look after their mental health and wellbeing during and after the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has been announced by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

The support includes an investment of more than £1 million towards the expansion of the Distress Brief Intervention (DBI) programme to help people in distress, and the launch of a new mental health marketing campaign across television, radio, print and online.

The DBI programme, which was previously operating in four pilot areas, will roll-out across Scotland, giving people over the age of 16 who are in emotional distress due to COVID-19 the opportunity to speak to specially trained staff. People who are in distress but do not need clinical intervention will be referred to the DBI programme by frontline staff, including NHS 24. 

The first phase of the new mental health campaign will launch this month and provide people with practical advice on coping with the current restrictions. Signposting to existing advice will be included and those who need extra support will be directed to NHS Inform as a key information resource and helplines operated by NHS 24, Breathing Space, SAMH and Samaritans.

The First Minister yesterday said:

“COVID-19 restrictions have affected all of our lives. People who may never have been affected by mental health issues in the past, are now facing emotional distress due to financial loss, bereavement and social distancing. 

“NHS 24 has experienced an increase in calls, including to Breathing Space, in recent weeks and we anticipate this will continue to grow. It is vital that during this period of uncertainty anyone who requires support for their mental health can receive it.

“Since 2017 more than 6,600 people have accessed the DBI programme and I am pleased that people across the country will now be able to access this support. Early intervention like this is such an important part of how we treat mental and emotional health and the DBI is all about equipping people with the skills and support to manage their own health and to prevent future crisis.

“This £1 million investment is in addition to the £3.8 million we invested last month to increase capacity of our telephone and digital mental health services. This national marketing campaign will equip us all with some practical things we can do to feel better and help us cope until things return to normal.”


 The DBI programme which launched in 2017 currently operates in Lanarkshire, the Borders, Inverness and Aberdeen. Around £1,038,000 will be invested in recruiting staff to expand and develop the Distress Brief Intervention programme nationwide. Funding will be distributed to NHS Lanarkshire and NHS Borders, third sector partners Penumbra, Support in Mind and SAMH, and to Stirling University for evaluation and Glasgow University for training.

The nationwide DBI programme will mean that people in distress related to COVID-19 who have no need for clinical intervention will be either linked directly by phone to NHS 24 by the first responder, or directed to phone NHS 24 if they are able to. Once through to NHS 24 an initial assessment will be made as to next steps, and whether they should then be referred to the DBI programme. If they are referred the distress responder will follow up with a phone call within 24 hours of referral.

Last month the Scottish Government announced £3.8 million of extra funding to begin to increase the capacity of NHS 24’s telephone and online services.

This includes £2.6 million to expand the NHS 24 Mental Health Hub and Breathing Space telephone helpline and web support service and £1.2 million to provide extra capacity for Computerised Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CCBT). Information about these expanded services will come on line as they become active.

The new mental health marketing campaign will respond to people’s needs by moving into a second phase focused on people’s resilience, and a third phase for when restrictions are lifted and we re-emerge into society.


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