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In a statement, the College said coverage of the ISPCC’s figures from its Childline service rightly focussed on inadequate access to appropriate help for children in distress.
However, it said that classifying all children in distress as needing mental health services, as some reports and political reaction appeared to have done, “only removes pressure for the development of appropriate early intervention services in the community, psychological and education systems”. The College said this increases the pressure on already under-resourced mental health services.
“Children exhibiting distress may do so for many reasons,” said Dr Helen Keeley, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist and Chair of the Child and Adolescent Faculty of the College of Psychiatrists. “Many need educational, psychological and community supports to help them deal with this, not psychiatric intervention.”
Dr Keeley pointed out that children with mental illness need access to fully-resourced mental health teams led by specialist psychiatrists as delineated in the national policy, A Vision for Change.
“Lack of appropriate support means that children are not getting the early intervention they may need and are ending up on waiting lists for mental health services they don’t need or are developing more severe mental health issues, thus increasing waiting times for all.”
Dr John Hillery, Director of Communications at the College of Psychiatrists, said it has previously indicated to Government and others the factors that are causing delay in access to services.
“These include the systemic problems outlined by Dr Keeley and the lack of appropriate psychiatrists and allied health professionals to take up already funded posts.”
On the issue of the lack of professionals nationally to fill mental health teams, Dr Hillery said recruitment problems “need robust examination of the factors that cause them but the College has regularly emphasised the unattractiveness of working conditions for trained psychiatrists in a situation where A Vision for Change remains short of full implementation”.
Dr Hillery said that the College welcomes the recently stated intent of the Minister of State for Mental Health Helen McEntee to set up a commission to plan for the future needs of the mental health of the youth of the country.
The College would question remarks made in interviews with the Minister for Children Katherine Zappone, proposing that mental health services for children might be best placed in a new agency aligned in some way to Tusla. “Mental health services for all age groups must be part of the planning of the nation’s health services and not passed off to a body outside the health services which can only suggest that the health needs of this group are less valued than those of the rest of the population,” said Dr Hillery.
He added that Minister of State McEntee has promised to meet with the College shortly and the mental health needs of children will be high on the agenda for that meeting.
In 2015, Childline answered 421,672 calls to the phone service and 18,304 conversations to its Childline Online service options. The majority of calls made to the service were universal in nature with no risk or additional needs involved.
Some 6.5 per cent of calls were from children at risk. The highest areas of risk were in relation to abuse and welfare where 9,428 calls were assessed at a high level of need. Some 1,458 calls relating to psychosocial mental health were classified as high risk.