I recently read an article that, to be quite honest, terrified me. In the first 11 months of 2013, 305 under-18s were detained by the police under the Mental Health Act because they had nowhere else to take them. Some were held for over 24 hours. You can read the original article here. In 2012 the figure was 317 and in 2011 it was 385. That's a total of over a 1000 young people and children who have been kept in police cells because there are no beds for them in specialised mental health units. In some cases, children as young as 10 were detained because there was nowhere else for them to go. To explain the Mental Health Act a little more, under it, the police have the power to take those with a mental health issue who they feel are a danger either to themselves or to others to a "place of safety" for medical assessment. Usually this means taking them to a hospital or care home for adults and either an adolescent psychiatric unit or children's care home for under 18s. Police detention should only occur in exceptional circumstances. So why is it happening so frequently?
The Department of Health are reportedly trialling two new schemes to help with the issue such as having mental health nurses patrolling with officers and giving an extra £25 million to make mental health workers available in police stations and court. But neither of these incentives solves the underlying issue here that there are physically not enough spaces available in health care centres for mentally ill young people. According to statistics on the Young Minds website, 1 in 10 5-16 year olds suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder. Between 1 in 12 and 1 in 15 children and young people deliberately self-harm. More than half of adults with mental health problems are diagnosed before they turn 18 and less than half of them received appropriate treatment after this diagnosis. All of these statistics paint a worrying picture of the state of mental health within young people. So why are there not adequate services available for those who need them?
As someone who has depression and has recently suffered a significant bereavement, I can tell you first hand that getting access to services at the best of times is difficult, let alone when you're fighting daily against your own mind. I've been told by doctors that I cannot access NHS counselling services as my case wasn't 'urgent' enough to warrant it. My university offers counselling but has a policy of only giving 8 sessions per person due to the high demand for their services. More recently in attempting to get access to bereavement counselling, I've been told by my local CRUSE (a specific bereavement counselling service) that they have a long waiting list and so they wouldn't be able to provide me with help at present and while there is a bereavement group at university, timetabling issues mean I'm unable to attend. All of these issues have created the impression that despite feeling utterly swamped, it sometimes feels like only those who do something drastic get attention.
At a time where the government are cutting funding for mental health care, how are people supposed to get the support that they desperately need? If the situation is already reached the point that GPs have to decide whether someone's plea for help is 'urgent' enough to warrant support, what will further cuts do? Will more young people end up spending the night in police cells for lack of a hospital bed? Will more people not come forward about their mental health issues for fear of lack of support? Will mental health continue to be the under recognised problem that it is? Bear in mind that 1 in 4 people will experience some form of mental health problem in any given year. So before you dismiss this, imagine that cancer patients, people with broken bones, people with epilepsy, all physical ailments, were put in a police cell overnight because there weren't enough hospital beds for them. And ask yourself - why is mental health dismissed by the government in funding reviews? Why does the stigma around mental health still exist? How many more people have to suffer in silence and fear of judgement about their own mental state? Surely putting people in a police cell will only serve to further compound this stigma. After all, being detained is something that happens when you've committed a crime. Is that how mental health is seen within our society? Because if so that's terrifying.