Graeme Kinghorn, Mental Health Aberdeen

Graeme kinghorn is a trustee of the charity mental health aberdeen. We caught up with him to find out more about the organisation’s work and the difference it has been making to people’s lives …

My involvement with Mental Health Aberdeen (MHA) came about by a chance discussion. My mum had a significant history of low mood and anxiety issues. Since I had seen the effect of this on her life, I was very willing to becoming an advocate for mental wellbeing. I’m a Finance Director who uses my business and life experience to support MHA, as it strives to deliver an extremely valuable service to the people of Aberdeen City and Shire.

I’ve now been a Trustee of the charity for the past ten years. The entire Board is composed of volunteers with different skills and a common aim of guiding the direction of the charity, supporting the small, but outstanding, executive team. Aside from that, I enjoy walking, spending time with family and friends, the odd glass of wine and music. I’ve even been known to sing in a local rock choir!

MHA is one of the oldest mental health charities in the UK. This year is our 70th anniversary, yet we’re still one of Aberdeen’s best kept secrets. We’re working very hard to raise MHA’s profile and the awareness of mental health issues across the city and shire. 

The majority of our work is individual counselling sessions. Our incredibly dedicated team of 90 counsellors, of whom 60 are volunteers, delivered almost 20,000 sessions last year. The demand for counselling grows all the time. We have counsellors in several primary and secondary schools in Aberdeen and have targeted projects in designated regeneration areas such as Torry and Calsayseat. MHA also signposts clients towards to other agencies that may provide more specific help, and provides training such as the Scottish Mental Health First Aid course which offers basic general information about mental health problems, fostering greater understanding and confidence when approaching someone in distress whether in the workplace or outside.

People in all walks of life can suffer from mental health problems. Previously, it was something that was simply not spoken about and families often felt it had to be hidden. Over the past few years, businesses have become far more aware of stress and depression and how those impact on staff. This, coupled with some celebrities, authors, singers, politicians and business leaders talking about their own struggles with mental wellbeing, helps to make it more acceptable for people to admit to feeling under pressure. That said, there’s still a long way to go. One recent study suggested about 60% of people would not want their employer to know that they had a mental health issue, and about 40% stated they did not want anyone to know that their mental wellbeing was not what it should or could be.

Longer term mental ill health rarely comes alone. It can cause quite severe physical issues for the sufferer, ranging from cardiovascular illness to problems with digestion, increased vulnerability to viral illness and increased ill health for pre-existing, underlying physical ill-health such as asthma and allergy related issues. Some people suffering from immense stress self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, which, again, tends to add additional problems. 

We’ve noticed that people who need our services are often more desperate now than previously. Work or financial related stress, relationship issues and suicidal ideation are increasingly common. Often external factors undermine mental wellbeing. The aftermath of the 2016 oil price crisis, for example, meant that the number of male clients equalled the number of women for the first time in MHA’s history. When the charity started, only about 10% of clients were male. Many experts are forecasting that COVID-19 and the strain this will put on the economy, both locally and nationally, will see a rise in the number of mental health problems people experience, so more people are likely to need
our help.

If you feel that you, or someone around you is experiencing poor mental health, perhaps because of lockdown, relationship or work issues, then it’s best to have a chat and ask how they are feeling and coping. Be gently persistent. You may be told to mind your own business but say that you are available for a chat when and if they like and you should ask the same question a few days later if they are still withdrawn. If you have concerns, MHA are operating a phone helpline during lockdown, so call 01224 573892 for more advice.

As MHA is 70 this year, we have a target of attracting 70 new ‘Friends of MHA’, volunteers who are prepared to promote and support the charity for any events that we may hold and become part of our community. We also had a number of big fundraising events in place for this year which will not now go ahead as planned so if Trend readers, whether as individuals, groups or businesses, would like to fundraise on behalf of MHA, we would be delighted to discuss their ideas with them. 

You can find out more about Mental Health Aberdeen at mha.org.uk or by calling 01224 590510.  If you’d like to discuss how you or your business could help raise funds for MHA, then please email Graeme at g.kinghorn@mhaberdeen.org.uk

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