Young people needing to access mental health inpatient care in Europe have extremely different experiences depending on where they live – and the UK is lagging behind.
A new large-scale study of all 28 countries in the EU revealed access to inpatient services “varies significantly”, with mental health services providing up to 50 times more beds depending on the country you live in.
The UK ranks 18th out of the 28 countries for the number of inpatient beds available per 100,000 young people, despite having the largest number of services dedicated to child and adolescent mental health.
Sweden had the least inpatient beds, with 1.2 beds per 100,000 young people, while Germany had the most, with 64 beds per 100,000 young people.
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Around one in 10 children aged five to 16 are thought to be affected by a mental health issue, and 50% of mental health problems are established by the age of 14. Researchers are now calling for policies to standardise services and improve access to mental health services across the EU for children and adolescents.
The findings will be presented at an event on 29 April to mark the completion of a five-year project led by the University of Warwick, which aimed to improve transitions for young people from child (CAMHS) to adult mental health services.
In the majority of European countries, when service users reach a certain age – 18 in the UK, for example – they are no longer eligible to use children’s mental health services and are instead moved to adult services. For many, this can mean uncertainty and the loss of the support that has helped them so far.
Researchers from Warwick found this transition has little clarity, and the study highlighted a lack of consistency in how this issue is handled across Europe.
While a number of young people move on to adult mental health services with minimal disruption, a large proportion are discharged without guidance on how to continue their support; have to take on the burden of convincing adult services to accept them; experience long waiting times for appointments; and having to repeatedly explain their problems to different services.
“With around a tenth of young people likely to experience mental health issues, it’s a matter of concern that the approach to child mental health varies so dramatically across Europe,” said Warwick Medical School’s professor Swaran Singh, who led the project. “Our youth deserve better mental health care than they currently receive.”