Vulnerable young people in distress are being locked up by the police because there is nowhere to accommodate them. Police took into custody two hundred and thirty-six under-18s, detained under the Mental Health Act, from April 2013 – March 2014, according to the Health and Social Care Information Centre.
In some counties like Norfolk, Hampshire and Devon, there are no dedicated safe places to assess or detain vulnerable people under 16 in crisis. Instead, they are usually locked in police vans or prison cells for long periods if they are deemed a danger to themselves or others because of a mental health problem.
In six British counties, only one young person can be accommodated at a time, and Lincolnshire can accept just two in Scunthorpe, in the north – leaving the rest of the large, rural county with no recourse.
Although mental health units and general hospitals could take in these young people in principle, they are often understaffed or full. A number of patients are refused admission to these mental health units because they have taken drugs, are drunk, or are displaying ‘disturbed’ behaviour. And yet, it is common for people in mental health crisis to have drug and alcohol issues, too. Self-medication is a way of coping.
Desperately, young patients may be placed wherever there is a vacancy – usually far away from home, family, friends and the experts who know them: an alienating and frightening experience for already vulnerable young people in mental distress.
Out of 23,000 incidents in Britain in April 2013- March 2014, a quarter resulted in the young person being locked in a police cell. 753 involved people under 18; and 236 were taken into police custody. The Mental Health Act states that police custody should be used only in exceptional circumstances.
Dr. Paul Lelliott, deputy chief inspector of hospitals, and the Care Quality Commission’s mental health lead, says: “… if a single child is taken to a police station rather than a hospital when they experience a mental health crisis, that is one child too many.”
“It’s hard to see how a police cell could possibly be considered a more suitable option,” said Sarah Wollaston, MP and former GP, who chairs the Health Select Committee. “As a former police forensic examiner, I would suggest that anyone who believes so has probably never spent time in one; they are frightening places, especially at night. What message does it send to a child already in a distressed state and at risk?”
University of Reading psychologists also reported in November 2014 that teenagers were being treated with a “one-size-fits-all” approach to psychological problems. Treatments used with teenagers are usually just adapted from those used with young children.
This issue has raised ongoing concern about inadequate political interest in mental health services and its funding in England.
“There would be a national outcry if people experiencing a physical health crisis were treated in the same way,” said Dr. Paul Lelliott.
According to the Care Quality Commission, 10% of children aged 5 -16 suffer some kind of mental disorder; most commonly anxiety, depression or behavioural difficulties. Since this figure is said to rise to one in four adults experiencing mental health problems at some time in their life – what are we doing wrong?
Founder, Arthur Coaching
Arthur trains individuals to become professional Young People Coaches. Our mission is to facilitate access to quality leadership coaching for young people.