Two MSPs have opened up about alcohol use in their families in a bid to reduce the stigma around deaths due to substance misuse.
Labour’s Monica Lennon wrote a heartfelt letter to her “brilliant” father after he lost his life to alcohol in 2015, just one year before she was elected to Holyrood.
Her tribute is included alongside Scottish Conservative MSP Miles Briggs, who has opened up for the first time about his father’s alcohol use.
Lennon wrote of attending Alcoholics Anonymous with her father Gerard Ward, who died at age 60, and paid tribute to him as a man who helped her stand up for others.
Briggs honoured his father Jim and described the challenges of growing up with a parent who drank after also losing his mother to breast cancer at an early age.
The MSPs are backing a new campaign See Beyond – See the Lives – Scotland, in a bid to reduce the stigma surrounding alcohol and drug related deaths.
Letters from 14 others addressed to their loved ones have been included on the campaign’s website.
The initiative comes after three consecutive years of rising numbers of deaths from drugs and two from deaths of alcohol, across the UK.
Scotland has the highest rates of any part of the UK, with the latest figures for suspected drug deaths in Scotland showing that the last quarter of 2022 saw the highest number in a single quarter since 2021, at 295 suspected deaths.
In 2021, Scotland saw the highest number of alcohol-specific deaths since 2008.
In his letter, Briggs addresses the loss and pain he and his siblings feel due to his late father Jim missing the opportunity to spend time with his grandchildren.
The MSP for Lothian writes: “We all miss you but also know the pain watching you try to deal with and hide your drink problem from family and friends – from bottles hidden in the garden and around the house, the difficulty in holding down a job and for the family the worry and concerns we all felt over what would come next.
He continues: “We probably don’t speak enough about you as a family – that’s partly because it can often return to what was a difficult few final years of your life. Dad, you know you weren’t perfect, but then which one of us is?”
Along with Briggs, Lennon will front a Scottish Parliament campaign and stress the importance of showing kindness and offering support to those affected.
In her letter, Lennon, who as a teenager attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings with her father Gerard in Glasgow, writes: “A whole lot of life happens when you are waiting for rock bottom. Part of me always believed that you would fall so hard that recovery would follow. There were times it was too difficult to be around.”
The campaign aims to spread the message that “everyone knows someone”, and was launched jointly by the University of Stirling, Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs, Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP), and The Salvation Army.
Friends and family of those who have died share hard-hitting, first-hand experiences and the website includes resources for those impacted.
Commenting on the campaign, which has gained national attention and support, Briggs said: “The important message with See Beyond – See the Lives – Scotland is that there is still stigma attached to alcohol and drug use, from how people talk about it to the judgements they bring to it.
“Each of these letters is a rallying cry to make a change. Everyone knows someone, and we can all help steer each other towards more of an understanding of substance use and its effects on people’s lives.”
He added: “It is a sad fact that everyone will know someone who has lost a loved one because of drugs and alcohol dependency. As a country we can make a change and save lives.”
Lennon said: “From personal experience I know the pain of losing a loved one due to alcohol harm, and the impact the stigma associated with this on families. That’s why supporting the See Beyond – See the Lives campaign means so much to me.
“Everyone knows someone who has lost a loved one as a result of alcohol or drugs. The powerful stories that people have shared about the people they loved and lost have inspired me to continue campaigning for change. We can all make a difference, including the language we use and the judgements we make about others.”
She added: “I hope others will feel inspired to sign the pledge, because we need to see the lives beyond the statistics.” The MSPs’ letters can be found here.