Mental health

This advice applies to Scotland. See advice for See advice for England, See advice for Northern Ireland, See advice for Wales

This information applies to Scotland.

What is mental health

Mental health is sometimes described as 'emotional health' or 'well-being'. It's an important part of overall health and can be adversely affected by life events such as the end of a relationship or a death, or by mental health problems such as anxiety or depression.

Mental well-being means different things to different people but is likely to involve feelings of being in control, a degree of satisfaction with life, self-esteem, optimism and a sense of belonging.

What are mental health problems

Mental health problems can be temporary or permanent and affect a person’s mental well-being. The most common problems are anxiety and depression, but others include schizophrenia, personality disorders, eating disorders and dementia.

Mental health problems affect different people in different ways and vary in terms of how long they last and how they affect people’s everyday lives. People can and do recover from mental health problems. The length of time it takes to recover is different for different people.

If you think you have a mental health problem

There are a number of things you can do if you think you have a mental health problem. Many people find it difficult to ask for help, but there are a wide range of services available and you can choose the services that appeal to you. For example, you might find it easier to phone a helpline rather than speak to a GP face to face. You could:

There are online guides from Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH). If you're concerned about your mental health, find services which you can self-refer to on the SAMH website

Thinking about taking your own life

Some people who are experiencing a mental health problem might find themselves thinking about taking their own life. There's a guide called 'Suicide - living with your thoughts' on the SAMH website. It has strategies for dealing with your thoughts, suggestions to keep yourself safe and a list of sources of help.


Some people who are experiencing a mental health problem might self-harm as a way of coping with emotional distress. The people around a person who self-harms can often be affected by it too. You can find more information about self-harm on NHS inform.

What to do in an emergency

If you need help urgently, you could call Breathing Space, NHS 24 on 111 or 999 for an ambulance.

If you're thinking about killing yourself, have a plan and the means to do it, you can call 999. You can stay on the line and talk to someone while you wait for help to arrive.

If you're concerned about someone who you think needs help urgently, you can call social services or NHS 24. Call 999 if you can’t get through anywhere else.

If you're concerned about someone else's mental health

If you're concerned about someone else's mental health and it feels appropriate, you could try asking them how they are. Sometimes just talking to someone who is willing to listen can be very helpful and make people feel less alone with their problems.

If the person has been having problems for some time, you might want to check if they know where to get more help. You could suggest any of the sources of help listed above.

You could also contact the local council social work department. The local council has specific duties to investigate, assess and support someone who has mental health problems in the community. Read more about community care assessments.

Sometimes the situation can be very serious and the person might need medical help right away. There are a number of things you can do in an emergency - see above.

Going to your GP

Going to your GP might be the first step you take towards getting help for your mental health problem. Your GP might:

  • refer you to a counsellor, a therapist or a specialist who might be part of your local community health team, for example a psychiatrist.

  • prescribe medication like anti-depressants.

If you have a preference about what type of treatment you'd like to receive, you should tell your GP.

If you’re not currently registered with a GP, you can find details of local GP surgeries on NHS inform.

Medical records

You might be concerned about your GP or other healthcare professional recording details about your mental health on your medical records. You have a right to see your medical records, and if you disagree with anything, you can ask for the information to be changed. There's more information about accessing your health records on NHS inform.

Your medical records won't be given to people who aren't involved in your medical care without your consent, except under specific circumstances. There's information about confidentiality on NHS inform.

Getting help in the community

Many people who want help for a mental health problem can get the help they need in their community through either their GP or a community health team.

There are often local support groups for people with mental health problems. A local association for mental health might be able to provide a list of groups, as might some national groups. Breathing Space is a confidential phoneline for anyone in Scotland who is feeling low, anxious or depressed.

Local authorities have specific duties to people with mental health problems and might be able to provide a range of services after a community care assessment.

Independent advocacy

If you're looking for support and are finding it hard to get the support you want, you might want to find an independent advocate. An independent advocate is someone who can help you find the information you need, express your own opinions and make your own decisions. They can also speak on your behalf in situations where you feel unable to do so.

You shouldn't have to pay to use an independent advocate. Health boards and local authorities have a legal duty to meet the costs of independent advocacy for people suffering from mental illness.

The Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance (SIAA) works to promote independent advocacy. There's a directory of advocacy organisations across Scotland on the SIAA website.

If you're worried that your mental health might get worse, you could talk to an independent advocate about whether to write an advance statement or choose someone to look after your interests.

Getting help in hospital

Some people with mental health problems will need to go into hospital. You can be admitted to hospital either with your consent or, in some circumstances, without your consent.

If you've agreed to go to hospital voluntarily, the staff can't give you any treatment without your consent. You can leave hospital when you want, but you should discuss this first with the hospital staff. If the staff don't think you're well enough to leave, they might decide to keep you in hospital.

You can be admitted to hospital without your consent. This is sometimes called being sectioned or detained. You might be able to appeal against the decision to detain you. The rules about being admitted to hospital without your consent and your rights while you're in hospital are complicated. To find out more contact the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland. There's a guide to consent to treatment on the Scottish government website.

Advance statements about treatment

If you have a mental health problem and are concerned about the types of treatment that you might receive if you become ill, you can write an advance statement. This is a written statement, drawn up and witnessed when you're well. It sets out your views about the treatment you'd prefer to receive or not receive if you become mentally ill and are too ill to make decisions. For example, you might have views about whether you'd like to be given certain medications, therapies or treatments such as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

The Mental Welfare Commission has produced a guide to advance statements and an advance statement template with some examples. You can find these materials on the Mental Welfare Commission website.

Choosing someone to look after your interests

If you're likely to need compulsory treatment for your mental health problem, you can appoint a named person to safeguard and represent your interests. This person will be involved in decisions about any treatment given under compulsory measures. They will have the same rights as you to be notified, attend and be represented at a mental health tribunal, which has to deal with applications for compulsory measures.

A named person can be anyone aged 16 or over whom you trust and who has a good understanding of what you might want or not want. Your named person could be a relative or a friend. There's a guide to appointing a named person on the Scottish government website.


A carer is someone who regularly cares for and supports a person with a mental health problem. The carer can be a spouse, relative, friend or neighbour and might not describe themselves as a carer. The carer doesn't have to live with the person they support, as they might provide emotional support from a distance. If someone helps a person with a mental health problem as part of their job, they're not considered a carer.

A carer isn't the same as a named person, although a carer can become a named person.

The rights and views of carers must be taken into consideration as much as possible when any decisions are being made about care and treatment for the person with the mental health problem.

There's information about the rights of carers on the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland website, including a good practice guide for practitioners and carers. There's also a guide to the rights of carers on the Scottish government website.

Help for carers

You can read more about help and support for carers. There's also information about help for carers on the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland website.

Equal Partners in Care is an online resource developed by NHS Education Scotland and the Scottish Social Services Council. The practice guidance section has links to guidance and good practice for supporting carers of people with mental health problems. It's available on the Knowledge Network website.

Human rights and discrimination

You might be concerned that treatment you've received for your mental health problem has breached your human rights, for example your right to respect for private and family life or your right not to be treated in an inhumane or degrading way. If you think a public authority, such as the NHS, has breached your human rights, you'll need to get specialist advice.

If you have a mental health problem, or even if other people think you have one, you might experience discrimination. This means that you might be treated unfairly because of your mental health, for example at work or when you're trying to access goods or services. This might amount to disability discrimination.

If you think your human rights are being breached or you're being treated unfairly because of a mental health problem, you can get advice about what to do.

Free mental health support

You can call a helpline if you're experiencing problems with your mental health. Some organisations can also support you over webchat or email. 

Remember that if you need help urgently, you could call Breathing Space, NHS 24 or 999 for an ambulance.

If you're feeling like taking your own life, have a plan and the means to do it now, you can call 999. You can stay on the line and talk to someone while you wait for help to arrive.

Breathing Space

Breathing Space is a free and confidential phone line for anybody experiencing low mood or depression. 

Breathing Space

Helpline: 0800 83 85 87



A free helpline for children and young people. The number won't show up on your phone bill. 

ChildLine (Scotland)

NSPCC Scotland

Templeton House

62 Templeton Street


G40 1DA

Tel: 0141 420 3816

ChildLine: 0800 1111



Papyrus (for people under 35)

A free helpline for people under 35 who are thinking about taking their own life. Or anyone concerned that a young person could be thinking about this. 

PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide

Lineva House

28-32 Milner Street




Phone:  01925 572 444 (Monday to Friday 9:00am to 5:00pm)



National confidential helpline - HOPELineUK

Phone: 0800 068 41 41 (Everyday 9am to Midnight)


Samaritans offers confidential, emotional support over the phone, face to face or online to anyone who is feeling distress or despair. You don't have to be feeling like taking your own life to contact Samaritans. It's available 24 hours a day. 


Write to us at:



PO Box 9090



Helpline: 116 123 (free from landlines and mobiles - Monday to Sunday 24 hours a day)

Welsh Language Line: 0808 164 0123 (Monday to Sunday 7pm to 11pm)

Admin tel: 020 8394 8300 (General Office), 029 2022 2008 (Wales), 0131 556 7058 (Scotland)

Helpline email: 

Admin email: 


Other help

Alzheimer Scotland

Alzheimer Scotland is Scotland’s national dementia charity. They provide support and information to people with dementia, their carers and families.

Alzheimer Scotland

160 Dundee Street


EH11 1DQ

National dementia helpline: 0808 808 3000 (24 hour Freephone)

Tel: 0131 243 1453

Contact form on website


Mental Welfare Commission

The Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland is an independent statutory body. It has a duty to safeguard the interests of people who are mentally unwell through illness or have a learning disability, whether in hospital or in the community. It has a particular duty to check that practitioners follow the principles about providing services and compulsory treatment. Anyone with a mental disorder or their carers can contact the Mental Welfare Commission.

Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland

Thistle House

91 Haymarket Terrace


EH12 5HE

Advice line for service users and carers: 0800 389 6809 (Monday to Friday 9am to 12pm and 1pm to 4pm)

Tel: 0131 313 8777



NHS inform

NHS inform is a national health information service for Scotland. NHS inform:

  • gives information on health and welfare topics, including medical conditions and patient rights

  • answers common health questions

  • uses an interpretation service called Language Line to support callers who can't or prefer not to speak English

  • has links to local information across Scotland and an online enquiry service.

NHS inform

Phone: 0800 22 44 88 (lines are open Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm)

Textphone users: 18001 0800 22 44 88


The Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH)

The Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) provides information about mental health issues for the public, carers and interested organisations.

Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH)

Brunswick House

51 Wilson Street


G1 1UZ

Tel: 0141 530 1000



The Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance (SIAA)

The Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance (SIAA) promotes independent advocacy in Scotland. There are leaflets about different types of advocacy and a 'find an advocate' page on the SIAA website to help you find advocacy organisations in your area.

Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance (SIAA)

18 York Place



Tel: 0131 510 9410


Website: contact form


Steps for Stress

Steps for Stress is part of a Scottish government campaign to provide information about stress and offer practical advice and signposting to sources of help. You can find information about breathing and relaxation exercises for stress on the NHS inform website.