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Services cannot cope with number of youths seeking help

Resource type: News

The Irish Times |



HUNDREDS OF children and adolescents in crisis who need counselling and support are being turned away from services because they cannot cope with demand.

Crosscare, the social care agency of the Dublin Diocese, said it was unable to deal with about 250 referrals over the past year involving young people with a wide range of problems including addiction, depression, abuse or bullying.

Many young people with serious mental health problems are also being admitted to adult psychiatric hospitals because there is nowhere else for them to go.

New figures compiled by the State’s mental health watchdog – the Mental Health Commission – show that 136 children or adolescents have been placed in adult units so far this year, some as young as 14.

The commission said this practice could have an adverse effect on children and should only take place where there was no alternative.

In addition, the number of young people waiting for assessments by psychiatrists in the public health service has been growing in recent times.

More than 3,000 children are on waiting lists to be assessed by experts, according to the latest official figures compiled by the Health Service Executive (HSE). Of these, more than 1,000 are waiting more than a year before being seen. The overall figure represents a 15 per cent rise over the past two years.

Groups such as the Irish Psychiatric Association have warned that delays in treatment for children with severe mental health difficulties leave young people at a much higher risk of becoming chronically unwell.

The situation is most serious among emergency cases, or children who have severe psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, depression and mania.

Mary Forrest, clinical director of Crosscare’s teen counselling service, said much more was needed to ensure that children or teenagers in crisis get a speedy response.

“It’s very distressing to hear the stories of young people who are forced to wait months to get a service, or those who live in areas of the city where we can’t provide a response,” she said.

“It makes parents very angry as well, given that they may have got their child to agree to go to a service or counselling, only to realise that there’s no room for them on it.”

Crosscare, which has five centres across Dublin, provides a free service for teenagers who are referred by schools, families and social workers.

Last year alone more than 400 young people between the ages of 12 and 18 received professional help from the teen counselling service.

However, it said it was increasingly being forced to place children on long waiting lists and, in one extreme case, it was closing a waiting list down.

The HSE said it was in the process of developing child and adolescent mental health services and estimates that the number of inpatient beds will increase from 12 to 30 shortly.

Two long-promised 20-bed units for children and adolescents in Cork and Galway are due to open soon, although there is still no firm opening date.

It also said good progress was being made in tackling waiting lists in some parts of the State where multidisciplinary teams are in place.

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