The community of Skye and Lochalsh is small and remote, in many places more than a 3 hour drive from the nearest psychiatric hospital in Inverness. Many services and therapies (particularly psychological and for drug abuse) are extremely limited or not available at all. Coming home from hospital, or avoiding admission, is difficult for anyone but even harder when support is so limited.
Our story began in 1992 when a group people of local people, including health and social care professionals and people in need of a service, saw the need for a facility to provide support in our community for those living with mental health problems. After becoming a registered Scottish charity and with the help of funding from the Highland Council and the Scottish Government, the Skye and Lochalsh Mental Health Project began. The project secured a lease on the old Cabin restaurant in Bayfield, Portree which opened as a drop-in centre in April 1993.
The numbers attending grew rapidly and there was demand from other parts of the area, so in 1995 a weekly drop-in was started in the village hall in Kyle of Lochalsh. In 1997, seeking greater stability, the project registered as a company limited by guarantee and became Skye and Lochalsh Mental Health Association. In 1999 an outreach service was added providing extra support throughout Skye and Lochalsh – it operated until 2006.
The Cabin was clearly becoming too small for the growing numbers and in 2003 the Association leased a former backpackers’ hostel in Portree. After conversion and decoration Am Fasgadh (meaning the shelter) was opened that May. In 2007 the drop-in became a 7 day a week, 365 day a year service, which is important because no other support services are open locally at the weekend and few facilities of any kind are available on a Sunday.
The years following the 2008 crash were difficult for everyone in the charity sector and the Association had to survive significant funding cuts. Through careful financial management, however, there was no reduction in the service on offer. The support to members became even more important as every other local service was forced to either cut back its activities or close altogether. The Community Psychiatric Nursing service later had to limit its caseload to people in immediate crisis, leaving many people with no other source of support.
The Kyle drop-in had crossed the bridge to the new Kyleakin hall in 2002. In 2011 the drop-in was replaced with a weekly social group meeting for lunch or various activities in different venues. This attracted a lot of new people – so many that it eventually became too busy to manage. In 2016 new funding allowed us to start a weekly session at the Lighthouse Centre in Kyle which has a great central location. This service is called An Drochaid (the bridge) and it offers the same food, company and support as the main drop-in at Am Fasgadh.
Meanwhile SLMHA was developing ever closer cooperation with NHS mental health services. In 2012 a new service was commissioned offering extra support to some of the Community Psychiatric Nurses’ most vulnerable patients and 2 years later this was further expanded. In 2016 new funding was received to provide therapeutic group work and the following year staff were trained to deliver Decider Skills courses, which started running at Am Fasgadh and throughout Skye and Lochalsh in partnership with the CPNs.
In 2018 the Association celebrated the 25 years of supporting its members. Many people have come and gone over that time but there are some who have had SLMHA as part of their lives for a whole quarter century. We’re proud of our longevity and continuity and we look forward to continuing to expand and improve the support we offer.