Consultant psychiatrist Sarah Buckley said there was a “huge demand” for services for young people with an eating disorder and services here were “very limited”.
She said while all areas of adolescent mental health were under-resourced, this was one area where there was little expertise and often families sought help abroad for their children.
Dr Buckley is head of a new unit for teenagers at St Patrick’s Hospital – the country’s largest independent mental health service provider, in James Street Dublin – the inpatient arm of which is set to open in April.
The new facility at St Pat’s will put the teen at the centre of the treatment.
The unit will have 14 ensuite single bedrooms, therapy rooms, an educational room, a ‘time out room’ and two gardens which include an all-weather activity garden and a quiet garden, and encompasses an education centre so patients do not miss out on schooling.
Dr Buckley said while there was no waiting list as yet, she anticipated there would be huge demand for the beds.
“All public services are at maximum capacity. We have referrals coming mainly from GPs who are delighted to have somewhere to send teenagers.”
Dr Buckley said as one quarter of our population is under 18 – that is one million people, the ratio of adolescents at risk here is one of the highest in Europe.
She said for this reason the unit was dedicated specifically to adolescents, who were such a vulnerable group.
While the HSE aims to treat adolescents up to the age of 18 by child and adolescent teams, the reality on the ground is different and such is the strain on teams that teens are often referred inappropriately to adult services.
Dr Buckley said other big issues facing young people arose from bullying and that substance and alcohol abuse were also major factors.
“Adolescence is a time of increased risk of poor mental health and anxiety, depression, psychosis, eating disorders and substance misuse becoming more prevalent; 30% of those we see are depressed,” she said.
Dr Buckley said the stigma surrounding mental health was still very much an issue. “It is very difficult for older teenagers to accept diagnosis. and for parents too,” she said adding that increased awareness was the key.
Meanwhile, an information line launched by St Patrick’s is open to the public and staffed by experienced mental health nurses and can be reached on 01-2493333. It received more than 700 calls in the first eight months of the service.
There are in excess of 2,500 people on HSE waiting lists for child and adolescent services, a quarter of whom have been waiting for more than one year.