In recognition of the impact on those left behind when someone they love dies because of alcohol and drugs, MSPs used a debate on See Beyond – See the Lives – Scotland in the Scottish Parliament this week to call for more compassion and support.
Led by Miles Briggs MSP and supported by Monica Lennon MSP, who both lost their fathers to alcohol, a cross-party group of MSPs shared their experiences of alcohol and drug problems, and deaths, amongst people in their lives and in the areas they represent as MSPs.
Referring to the campaign’s aim to reduce the stigma around drug and alcohol use, Miles, Conservative and Unionist MSP for Lothian, said: “People can change but stigma holds them back.”
Monica, Labour MSP for Central Scotland, was tearful as she remembered her father Gerald. She told the Chamber: “The barriers are real, stigma is a killer. People are frightened to ask for help.”
Jamie Greene, Scottish Conservative and Unionist MSP for the West of Scotland, spoke of his father’s death from an alcohol problem and how proud he is of his mother for successfully being in recovery from her alcohol problem.
Jamie said: “With this campaign we are being asked to see beyond the substance, the alcohol, the demons, to see people as your dad or your mum or your sibling or your child. Let’s see the lives of these people through their eyes. They are self medicating to deal with often horrific experiences. And see the lives of those who have recovered. [My mum] grew to rediscover who she was as a person.”
(L to R) Elinor Jayne, Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems; Professor Tessa Parkes, University of Stirling; Philip Foley; Monica Lennon; Miles Briggs; Justina Murray, Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs; Dr Hannah Carver, University of Stirling.
Finlay Carson, Scottish Conservative and Unionist MSP for Galloway and West Dumfries, talked about the death of a friend, which he suspects was due to his alcohol problem, and the shame his friend’s family clearly feel as they did not publish a death notice or even hold a funeral. He said: “Behind every death there is a family, friends and a community who is experiencing a devastating loss.”
MSPs thanked participants of See Beyond – See the Lives – Scotland for recording videos of their letters to the family members and friends they had lost to alcohol and drugs.
Stephanie Callaghan, Scottish National Party MSP for Uddingston and Bellshill, said: “Be kind, talk about the person, not the user.”
Beatrice Wishart, Scottish Liberal Democrats MSP for Shetland Islands, summed up the feeling in the chamber, saying: “Addiction is a health issue, and people should be treated with care and support, not judgement”.
In conclusion, Minister for Public Health and Women’s Health, Jenni Minto MSP, highlighted the “honesty, grief, love, and hope” that was apparent in the See Beyond – See the Lives – Scotland stories, and committed the Scottish Government to supporting the organisations behind the campaign to take it to communities and spread the message of compassion further.
Participant organisations from the See Beyond – See the Lives – Scotland campaign – the University of Stirling, Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs, Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems and The Salvation Army - attended the debate. They were joined by Philip Foley, one of the participants, who, along with Miles Briggs and Monica Lennon, penned a public letter to his deceased father.
For more on See Beyond - See the Lives - Scotland click here.