Ombudsman report: ‘Lack of sensitivity’ in teen psych units

A lack of sensitivity and use of confusing clinical language are among the challenges identified by young people using mental health services, according to a new report from the Ombudsman for Children.

Published yesterday, Ombudsman Dr Niall Muldoon said the ‘Take My Hand’ report gives a “rare insight” into the experiences of 25 young people, aged 14-17, in five of Ireland’s six inpatient units for children and young people, three in Dublin, one in Galway and one in Cork.

While young people often spoke positively about the medical professionals who worked with them, many questioned their interpersonal skills and their inability to communicate in a child-friendly way.

Some professionals were also seen as lacking in empathy,” the report says.

Moreover, young people “found it challenging when professionals suggested that they needed to ‘keep trying’ and ‘keep working on it’, even when the young people indicated that they felt “it wasn’t working”.

Some of the young people noted that they experienced similarly “unhelpful” approaches in the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) teams they were subsequently referred to.

The report says the “overriding feeling” among young people referred to CAMHS, was that there was a lack of clear acknowledgment of their views in the inpatient units.

In relation to school staff, young people felt some teachers and counsellors lacked specialised knowledge about mental health and that sessions with the school counsellor weren’t always productive.

One young person described their school counsellor as “better suited to dealing with heartbreak rather than depression and anxiety”.

The issue of accessing appropriate services in a timely manner was also identified as a challenge.

One young person returned to hospital because they could not access a community CAMHS service.

Another young person spoke of how they had previously been placed in adult psych wards because of the lack of adolescent inpatient beds, an experience they described as “traumatic”.

The report says young people “consistently raised the issue of not having enough therapeutic treatment”.

Among the changes they recommended to improve mental health services were that schools should offer regular workshops and awareness days as part of a mental health education programme and that staffing levels, including in community CAMHS services, should be increased and be more consistent.

This would help to reduce waiting times, increase regularity of sessions for young people and alleviate young people feeling “rushed through the system.”.

Mr Muldoon said it was “essential to put children at the centre of mental health services”.

“The voices and views of these young people matter and it is vital that they are heard,” he said.

The HSE anticipates that 18,800 young people will be referred to CAMHS this year, with approximately 14,300 expected to be seen by the service.

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