THE BLOG
19/03/2015 07:25 GMT | Updated 18/05/2015 06:59 BST

Youth Centres Are Being Treated as an Alternative to Mental Health Care

Imagine the outrage if a cancer patient was referred to a cancer charity and then all NHS support was removed, it would leave the patient in a dangerous place. There would be people around that understood cancer but nobody could remove the tumour or administer the chemotherapy required for recovery. It would be a disgraceful and appalling situation and yet this is happening with mental health, particularly with young people's mental health and it's a growing problem.

I spent a year in and out of psychiatric wards, I was very unwell with my eating disorder, incredibly low in mood and engaging in dangerous and suicidal behaviour. I was not allowed to attend my college course as I was deemed too bigger risk. I was very ill and my life was falling apart because of it. The community mental health team were involved but only because I'd ended up in a psychiatric hospital and the care and support I received was poor. My care coordinator went on long term sick and wasn't replaced. I wasn't given another worker or any follow up, I waited months for my care coordinator to return to work and in the meanwhile had no support. When I eventually got to see my worker I still wasn't given any help. I was told that my best option would be to go to a youth centre that I had never heard of and I was then discharged. I went along to the youth counselling service that had never dealt with an eating disorder patient before and were not set up to deal with a mental health crisis should one occur. It was a dangerous situation, my weight was plummeting, I was very unstable and I was left in the hand of youth workers who didn't really know what to do with me. I know that I am not alone in my experiences and having had many conversations with other young people and youth workers I understand that this isn't a rare occurrence, this is happening far too often.

It's unsafe for young people with mental health problems, the youth worker can care all they want about the young person but without the expertise and a crisis team they simply cannot provide the support that is needed to keep a young person safe. Once the youth centre is shut where does the young person go to access help and support? Help and support is not enough, if you gave a cancer sufferer a cup of tea and a listening ear then it may help them to feel less alone but it will not help them to get better, this is the same with mental illness. Mental illness requires treatment in order for people to recover, youth centres cannot provide this treatment. Community mental health teams can. It is putting the lives of young people at risk.

It's not only the young people who are at risk but the youth workers are too. I cannot imagine the stress and strain that youth workers must feel. They are not trained to deal with severe psychiatric conditions and yet they have numerous young people in their youth centres who are battling mental illness and that youth worker is often the young person's soul support. That is wrong. How can a youth worker be expected to deal with severe self-harming, suicidal young people and anorexia sufferers when they have no formal training? How can a youth worker give a young person hope when mental health services are turning them away and leaving young people in the hands of youth workers who don't know what to do? It isn't right.

It is unacceptable to rely on youth charities and youth centres to hold mentally unwell young people steady. People deserve better than that, young people deserve recovery and a chance at living a fulfilling life. Recovery requires professional help, mental health services have access to this help. Mental health services need to stop using youth centres as an alternative to having young people on their caseloads. We have a national health service for a reason, they need to stop being selective of their patients. Young people are the future, mental health services need to help these people to recover.