The number of young people with a mental illness being treated in non-specialist wards has seen a “significant drop”, a report has found.
The Mental Welfare Commission said there were 207 admissions to non-specialist wards in 2014-5, dropping to 71 in the last year.
Most of those 71 admissions – involving 66 young people – were to adult wards.
The Scottish government welcomed the report but said it recognised there was still work to be done.
Every health board in Scotland reported a fall in treatment on non-specialist wards, but the commission said there were “marked” reductions in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Tayside, Ayrshire and Arran, and Grampian.
Dr Gary Morrison, executive director at the Mental Welfare Commission, said: “Children and young people under the age of 18 who need hospital treatment for mental illness should, wherever possible, be treated in a specialist unit, designed to care for their age group.
“We have raised concerns in the past when we saw the numbers going to non-specialist, usually adult wards, rising, and last year we were glad to see a reversal of that trend.”
He added: “We know that services have been working hard across the country to achieve this change, and we welcome it.”
Sectioned at 13
Three years ago, Rian, who is autistic and has learning difficulties, was sectioned and admitted to hospital in Edinburgh.
For him it meant spending months on his own with only the medical staff for company.
For his family, it was a heart wrenching 11-month separation.
His grandmother says he should have been able to spend time with other youngsters during that time and that her family just want the best for him.
Marilyn Beagley, who lives in the capital, says her grandson keeps in regular contact with her, despite him now living at a residential school in Glasgow.
However, as of 7 November, his place at the school will be terminated and the challenge of finding a new place for him will begin again.
The commission believes that the reductions have been achieved by staffing “stability” in Scotland’s three specialist inpatient units.
There have also been improvements to admission and discharge procedures in these units and an expansion of services provided by Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (Camhs), the commission said.
The report also made two recommendations:
Admissions procedures to the three specialist units should be reviewed to improve out-of-hours referrals
Scottish government and health boards should review availability and access to intensive psychiatric care unit beds for young people nationally
The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition (SCSC) welcomed the figures, but said there were still too many under-18s with mental illnesses being treated in the wrong wards.
“We have raised this issue previously with the Scottish government and are glad to see a reversal in this trend and note that services have been working hard across the country to address this,” a spokesman said.
“It should be noted, however, that there are currently only 48 specialist hospital beds provided by the NHS in Scotland for adolescents with mental health problems, despite increasing demand.”
The specialist units are in Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow – but the SCSC said there was no inpatient provision north of Dundee.
Mental Health Minister Maureen Watt said: “As the report confirms, this reduction reflects the Scottish government’s work to invest in and improve specialist child and adolescent mental health services across Scotland.
“That work is especially important as more young people are coming forward to seek help as the stigma surrounding mental health declines.
“While welcoming the significant step forward, I am aware there is much work still to do. That’s why we are continuing to focus on making further improvements through our 10-year Mental Health Strategy.”
More than 2,000 contacts were with young people who had already taken steps to end their lives, such as writing a note, giving meaningful items away or even planning their death.
For Calleigh, a perfectionist nature, coupled with extensive pressure from a high-achieving school, meant she sank to a very low point.
But making contact with Childline proved to be a lifeline – literally.
Childline counselling 2016-2017
15% increase in sessions about suicidal thoughts since last year
22,456 sessions about suicidal thoughts
72% of those who had this counselling were girls
13,746 sessions about anxiety
295,202 counselling sessions in total
“I was able to talk to someone, they were able to say, ‘OK, what’s making you feel like this? Take one step at a time’ and they’re just so supportive.
“I’d call them when I wanted to self-harm. I would message them – they’ve got amazing messageboards – it’s like a forum but it’s safe, you’re not going to get bad messages and there are so many other people that are feeling the same way.”
What should you do if you feel like this?
Calleigh says it’s important to seek help – and to remember that there doesn’t always have to be a reason for feeling at breaking point.
“I’d say you definitely can’t bottle it up, because that makes it so much worse – just talk to someone, even if it’s online.
“Talking to someone who’s not in the problem, who you know is not going to judge you or worry – because my main problem was ‘I don’t want my parents to worry, there’s so much stress’ – and just knowing that you’re not alone and that it’s not your fault.
“And there doesn’t have to be a reason, it doesn’t have to be that you were bullied, it doesn’t have to be pressure, it could just be you feel numb because you feel numb.”
What does the future hold?
Childline founder and president Dame Esther Rantzen says it’s vital to find out why so many young people are feeling so desperate.
“When Childline launched over 30 years ago, I remember children usually felt suicidal because they were being hurt by someone.
“Now young people tell us they are overwhelmed by mental health issues taking them to the brink of suicide.
“We must discover why so many of our young people feel so isolated they turn to Childline, because they believe no one else cares about them.”
Calleigh wants to see much more done to raise the profile of mental health issues.
“I strongly feel that teachers, parents and support staff need to know more about mental health and they need to look out for the signs.”
In the meantime, Dame Esther is urging members of the public to come forward as volunteer counsellors for Childline.
“Anyone who can lend a few hours to this vital service could end up saving a child’s life.”
Help can be found by ringing the Childline helpline on 0800 1111 or via the Childline website
Adrian Goldberg uncovers a rise in the number of patient attacks on mental health workers over the last five years. Figures obtained by 5 live Investigates show a 25% rise in assaults on staff.
Incidents over that time include a healthcare assistant who was stabbed to death; a member of staff whose finger was bitten off and a nurse who had boiling water thrown in their face.
Last year there were over 40,000 cases, and the number in England alone has increased by more than a third. Adrian speaks to those at centre of the story and finds out what is being done to reduce the numbers.