Over 200 kids with mental health problems locked up by police

Reuters
More than 200 children suffering from mental health problems were locked up by the police in the UK last year. This was due to a lack of hospital beds, while some of them were as young as 12, according to figures seen by The Independent on Sunday.

As many as 202 people under the age of 18 were detained by police under the Mental Health Act, some for up to two days, according to figures released under freedom of information requests. Although the vast majority did not pose a threat to the public, many were in danger of harming themselves or were suicidal.

Police are allowed to lock someone up for up to 72 hours under section 136 of the Mental Health Act if there are no available places in hospitals or psychiatric units.

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Although in many cases the police didn’t have a choice, it is hardly an ideal situation for people suffering from mental health problems.

“Nothing could be more damaging to the mental health of a young person than to be left isolated, unprotected and feeling they have done wrong, when they are suffering from mental illness. They are afraid, sometimes they are handcuffed, they have no means of contacting people and they are put into a cell alongside people who may be drunk or violent,” Marjorie Wallace, the chief executive of the mental health charity SANE, told The Independent on Sunday.

Twenty-seven of the 43 police forces in England and Wales said they had held children under the age of 18 in custody. A 16-year old girl was held for two days in Devon because there were no hospital beds.

“We have a 16-year-old girl suffering from mental health issues held in police custody. There are no beds available in the UK! This can’t be right!” assistant chief constable Paul Netherton tweeted last November.

Police in Devon and Cornwall have since introduced a policy to stop this practice.

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In Sussex, police launched a project where mental health nurses join officers on the beat to reduce the number of people being detained under the Mental Health Act. While in North Yorkshire and Somerset and Avon, the police have opened “place of safety” suites where people who are suffering mental breakdowns can be treated.

Sarah Brennan from the charity Young Minds said that it was important to tackle mental health problems before they reach crisis point.

“We created this situation by making it much harder for young people to access mental health services when they are first experiencing problems. We really need to prevent young people from reaching this point of crisis in the first place,” she told The Independent.

Only six percent of the budget for mental health allocated towards children and Labour have said they will increase the amount spent on “crucial services” if they get elected.

A spokesman for the Conservatives defended their track record on mental health.

“We have also established the first ever national Mental Health Crisis Care Concordat to get the police, the NHS and other agencies to work together to improve the system of care and support for people in crisis,” he said.