Peter Burrows, Bishop of Doncaster column: Young mental health patients being are put in prison cells

Some young people with mental health issues are being put up in cells, says the Bishop of Doncaster
Some young people with mental health issues are being put up in cells, says the Bishop of Doncaster

Last week, I attended two meetings addressing the issue of wellbeing and its relation to good health.

Mental health and wellbeing is an important part of overall health and can be affected by many things.

These include life events such as relationship breakdowns, bereavement and stress at work as well as mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety.

There are different definitions of mental wellbeing but they generally include areas such as satisfaction, optimism, self-esteem and feeling in control, having a purpose in life and a sense of belonging and support.

The most disturbing of the meetings was the one that spoke about the wellbeing and mental health of children and young people.

Most children grow up mentally healthy, but surveys suggest more children and young people have problems with their mental health today than 30 years ago – something in the region of one in 10 children up to the age of 15, partly because of changes in the way we live now and how that affects the experience of growing up.

Many struggle to understand mental health issues, often because the presenting concerns are not as obvious as physical health problems.

In an attempt to address this, the Government has set up a taskforce to look at improving outcomes for children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing.

The taskforce will consider how to improve children’s mental health services.

Its work is urgent and I was shocked to learn the problem is exacerbated by a bed shortage for young people with mental health issues resulting in some being detained in prison.

Reports indicate more than 200 children – some as young as 12 – were held in prison cells while suffering mental health issues last year, because of the shortage.

They are not criminals, but young people in need who are left in prison feeling isolated, afraid and vulnerable.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists is clear delays in accessing beds have put mentally unwell children at risk with some attempting to take their own lives while they waited for hospital care.

Although the Government has set up a taskforce, they have also reduced spending on mental health services and this needs to be addressed as an urgent priority.

As a society we need to understand mental health issues more fully and in doing so increase the support to young people in an attempt to improve their wellbeing which will in many cases prevent them from having to access mental health resources in the first place.

However, for those who do we must also ensure they receive urgent, appropriate and compassionate care in the right environment.