Mental illness among children up 25% in 5 years

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THE number of children and teenagers suffering from serious mental illnesses and admitted to psychiatric hospitals has increased by almost 25 per cent over five years, from 7,000 in 1986 to a record 8,800 in 1991.

Explanations may be that many more youngsters are being treated in inappropriate adult facilities, as they were in Victorian times, or that there has been a real increase in emotional and behavioural problems among young people consistent with the dramatic rise in the divorce rate and family break-ups.

The latest figures from the Department of Health show the most striking increase is among children under the age of 10: the number in this age group admitted to hospital has almost doubled from 707 to 1,400.

The next largest rise was among children aged between 10 and 14, whose numbers rose by almost 50 per cent from 1,077 to 1,600. The number of 15- to 19-year-olds admitted rose by 10 per cent, from 5,272 to 5,800. The latest increase continues a pattern of rises since 1985 and contrasts with a decrease which occurred from 7,717,in 1979 to 7,337 in 1985.

Many child psychiatrists and children's rights campaigners have anecdotal evidence that a growing number of teenagers are being 'dumped' in adult wards, a practice condemned by most doctors.

Today, researchers from South West Thames Regional Health Authority who have conducted a national review of mental health services for children and adolescents will present their preliminary findings to the Department of Health. The results are believed to show a breakdown in the co-ordinated programmes of care involving health authorities, the education service and social services departments. Local authority departments have been hit by funding cuts.

Young Minds, the National Association for Child and Family Mental Health, has called for a national plan for children's and adolescent mental health, and warns: 'The effects of all these closures and reductions are very serious indeed. The scope for early intervention, particularly with vulnerable families, becomes increasingly limited.'