Today, listening to Radio 4, I heard an item about children with mental health problems being treated on adult mental health units. According to government statistics (usually an optimistic appraisal at the best of times, and far from the real level of a given problem.) in the UK today, 1 in 10 children suffer from mental health problems. The article states that some children are having to travel huge distances to get a bed, though it was vague as to if this was an adult bed or a bed on an age appropriate unit. (http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/feb/20/mentally-ill-children-treated-on-adult-wards-far-from-home) (http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2006/jul/23/politics.socialcare)
Firstly, let me give you a few facts.
My NHS Trust recently built a whole new unit for the treatment of adolescents and children with mental health problems and actively rent out beds to what we refer to as ‘out of area’ patients. This can generate large amounts of funding to the Trust renting out, as the prices other Trusts (the Trust actually responsible for the child’s care) is significantly higher than a patient from the local area.
Secondly, I know other care workers who have worked on my local unit for children/adolescents, and to be perfectly honest, I would prefer my child to be admitted to the adult unit where I work than be put for a single day in the age specific unit in my area. It is a hell hole. The routine is one of constant self harming attempts, violence and aggression towards staff and staff having to restrain young patients. This never stops I might add. If you want a child to experience such things, and in fact learn some new tricks, which children are wont to do in any situation, that’s the place to admit them. Obviously, staffing is challenging in such units and staff sickness or shortage leads inevitably to using high volumes of bank or agency staff, who are often not experienced or in fact professional enough to be appropriate to work with younger patients.
In the case of my own unit, we will admit 17 yr olds, but they will immediately be put on level 3 observations due to their age and perceived vulnerability. Level 3 basically meaning they have a staff member with them 24/7.
But above all things, I have to say it’s all well and good to give statistics about the occurrence of mental illness in the young, but surely we should be asking, ‘why is the occurrence of mental illness in children so high?’
What is our society doing that is causing so much mental illness in children. Once childhood was perceived as the best time of your life. So what has happened that children as young as 11 in the UK have mental illness? WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON!!!?
The sad thing, as noted in part, above, is that there is money to be made in children being treated for mental health problems. In some ways it reminds me of the history of advertising in the 50’s that began to aim their consumer marketing at young adults and children rather than simply adults. The aim being to ‘get them while they were young’ and hook them for life.
Adolescent units are simply breeding grounds for adult inpatient units. Remember, mental illness isn’t like breaking your leg. It cannot be simply set and healed, then fixed. Its psychological and emotional and children naturally adopt and adapt, absorb and evolve. That’s what being a child is all about. These environments are not healthy and heal only by aversion, if at all. Children need nurturing and supporting and this is a virtual impossibility in a unit whose daily routine is aggression, self harm, confrontation and restraint. Staff become simply controllers, prison officers struggling to control the patients. Therapeutic input is a secondary factor is a factor at all. This simply reinforces negative behaviours and a conflict model against people that children and young adults perceive as taking away their freedom and choice.
Of course then there is the fact that these patients can generate funds for an individual NHS Trust, not to mention the broadening user area for drug companies. In the US, children as young as 8 can get a diagnosis of severe mental illness and look forward to a life time of prescription drug use, in some cases, parents have actually been raided by the police (included SWAT teams) because they refused to give their young children prescription drugs, while the child is forcibly removed from the family home.
You have to question the health of a society when children under 16 are committing suicide due to mental illness, where children are given powerful antipsychotics with severe side effects and where the admission to specialist units is seen as necessary.
Children by their essential organic nature are in a process of development. They are reactive to everything about them as well as in them. If a child develops a ‘mental illness’ the question remains….why? The biological argument is not the answer, this is why I loathe the comment ‘oh it’s because he suffers from ADHD.’ As if this is an inevitable, unavoidable answer to the problem and excuses our society and parents (also effected by culture and society obviously) from any role or accountability in such a manifestation.
If a child begins to behave in a way that leads to someone labelling them with being mentally ill, I say they are reacting to something that impacts on them. NOT, something developing in them. Its common sense really.
Examine and change society, rather than stigmatising children, admitting them into the mental health system and pumping children full of drugs.
Personally, I feel that society is sick….not the people within it.