General News — 14 January 2014

THE number of teenagers seeking treatment at hospital emergency departments for mental health issues has more than doubled in five years.

Health Department data obtained by The Sunday Times show 4674 such presentations (for 13 to 17-year-olds) in 2012-13 – 2373 more than in 2008-09.

The number of teenagers who spent the night in a specialised mental health hospital bed also increased substantially over the same five-year period, from 410 to 778.

The alarming numbers come after The Sunday Times revealed last week that suicide had overtaken car accidents and illness as the most common cause of unexpected death among WA teenagers.

It also comes as a not-for-profit service providing healthcare to almost 1000 Peel teenagers is facing closure.

WA has just 20 dedicated adolescent psychiatric beds – eight at Princess Margaret Hospital and 12 at the Bentley Adolescent Unit.bigstockphoto_Sad_Girl_On_Bench_2820029

Opposition health spokesman Roger Cook said the increase in presentations was “truly alarming”.

“These figures show that there has been a 30 per cent increase between 2011-12 and 2012-13 in young people presenting to EDs with a mental health issue,” he said.

“At the same time that we are seeing these dramatic increases in children with mental health problems, the Barnett Government is spending $1.2 billion on a new children’s hospital that will only provide another eight mental health beds”

But Mental Health Minister Helen Morton said “the mix of increased community capacity, plus the youth-specific places at the new hospitals being built, plus the 20 beds at PMH will meet demand”.

“All the evidence we have collated indicates that the solution to increasing presentations to emergency departments is ensuring we have additional child, adolescent and youth specialist services in the community, increased capacity of community-based support organisations – and additional child and adolescent beds and youth specific beds,” she said.

Peel Youth Medical Service, which has been providing free consultations for 12 to 25-year-olds, fears closure after GP Down South had its funding cut as a result of the introduction of the Medicare Locals.

The service, which has 938 active patients, 38 per cent suffering mental ill-health, had its suicide prevention strategy funds cut in October last year.

This article first appeared on ‘Courier Mail’ on 10 January 2014.

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