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One in three kids hospitalised with mental health issues treated in adult wards

The practice can be “very frightening” for young people, according to one expert.

Image: Shutterstock/Kamira

TREATING CHILDREN WITH mental health issues in adult psychiatric units constitutes “a major violation” of their human rights, the head of the Children’s Rights Alliance has said.

The charity’s chief executive, Tanya Ward, said the practice was unacceptable and could prevent children from making a full recovery from mental illness.

Some 50 children were admitted to adult facilities in the first six months of this year, according to new figures obtained by Fianna Fáil.

The figure represents just under a third of the total number of young people admitted to inpatient units.

The majority of minors treated in adult wards (47 out of 50) were 16 or 17 years old.

Some 30% (15) were discharged either the same day or within two days of admission, while 60% (30) were discharged within a week.

Fine Gael and Labour had committed to ending the practice in the Programme for Government agreed in 2011.

High suicide rates

Ward told TheJournal.ie that she was not surprised by the admission numbers, saying Ireland’s high teenage suicide rate is an indicator of the unsuitability of current services.

“Children who need to be admitted to psychiatric care should be cared for by specially trained staff in children’s units,” she said.

Being admitted to an adult unit can be very frightening for young people.  Some of them will likely face mental health issues for their whole lives, so it’s very important that their first engagement with mental health services is a positive one.

The practice has also been criticised in the past by the Mental Health Commission, whose code of practice states that no child under the age of 18 should be admitted to an adult unit except for in “very exceptional circumstances”.

In a 2013 report, the state’s mental health watchdog said it was “a most unsatisfactory situation”.

Some 91 minors – representing just over 20% of all child admissions – were treated in adult psychiatric wards that year.

‘Untold stress’

Fianna Fáil TD Colm Keaveney today said the practice “causes untold stress not only to the children themselves but to their families and to the staff working in these units”.

Young people with mental health issues “should be cared for in an appropriate setting”, he said.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the HSE said there are a range of factors that can influence the clinical decision to admit minors to adult units.

“Some of these admissions relate to a crisis admission where no adolescent bed is immediately available,” she said.

Distance to the nearest CAMHs in-patient unit can also be a factor when immediate clinical assessment and treatment may be the requirement.   In some cases, the presenting clinical needs of the young person (who may be nearly 18 years old) may be more appropriately assessed and treated in an adult unit.

Read: Online counselling offers easy-to-reach support for depression and anxiety >

Column:  Living with anxiety is difficult enough without being told to cheer up >

Originally published: 17.40

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Catherine Healy

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