IN recent weeks, we’ve received welcome news from both UK and devolved governments regarding the easing of lockdown restrictions across the United Kingdom.

From Saturday, English cinemas and museums have been able to reopen, and from July 15 those in Scotland can follow suit along with hairdressers and barbers. Scottish schools have also been told to prepare for pupils to resume full-time study from August 11 – a welcome change in approach from previous plans to prioritise “blended learning” – and Nicola Sturgeon has indicated she will issue further guidance next week on when places of worship will be able to open to communal prayer and congregation services.

It is undoubtedly down to the perseverance of the British public and the dedication of our essential workers that we have been able to bring this virus under control and restore some semblance of normal life over the coming weeks.

Since the outbreak of this pandemic, our NHS has quite rightly mobilised to face the unprecedented challenge of this deadly virus. Unfortunately, this has meant that some other health services have taken a back seat and the lack of provision of mental health services has been particularly acute during this crisis. For many, the experience of isolation has taken a terrible toll. Moreover, for children who have lacked vital social contact during their formative years and who cannot understand why they can’t hug their grandparents, the impact is heart-breaking.

Research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies has shown that coronavirus has had substantial negative impacts on mental health across the population and that women and young people have been particularly badly hit, with 14% of people aged 16 and above experiencing a mental health problem “much more than usual”. A study by the charity The Childhood Trust backs up this research, and found that many children from disadvantaged backgrounds were worried about their family’s health and wellbeing during this pandemic. With many support services moved online during lockdown, some children from deprived backgrounds both do not have the resources to access the internet and have lost access to the usual support offered at school, youth clubs or external organisations.

In the past, there has been the perception that mental health services have been treated as the poor relation of physical health within our NHS. This is wrong and needs to change. Prior to the pandemic, Scotland’s approach wasn’t working – with an Audit Scotland report in September 2018 stating that it was “not clear” how the SNP’s mental health strategy would address the crisis in children’s mental health.

The same report revealed that the number of referrals to specialist services had risen by 22% in the preceding five years to reach a situation where one in 10 children aged five to 16 have a “clinically diagnosable mental illness” – at least two in every school class. Unfortunately, the increased demand on services has also led to higher waiting times, with just 73% of young people in 2018 being seen within the 18-week target, down from 78% the previous year and well under the Scottish Government’s 90% target.

So we know that even before coronavirus, there was a serious problem in mental health services in Scotland. With the research showing that lockdown has exacerbated poor mental health, especially in our children and young people, it’s essential that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past. As life begins to return to some form of normality, we owe it to those who have given up so much these past few months to be proactive in seeking to address the ticking time bomb of mental health challenges within our society.