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Health

Emergency detentions of young adults and teens soar in Scotland


Mental health experts are to hold an inquiry after it emerged that emergency detentions and compulsory treatment for young women and teenage boys in crisis are at record levels in Scotland.

The latest figures show a 122% increase in short-term detentions since 2009 for women aged under 25, a group which also had the highest rate per capita in Scotland for emergency detentions in hospital last year.

The Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland (MWC), a statutory body, said teenaged boys aged 16 and 17 showed the sharpest increase in emergency detentions with 26 cases recorded last year, more than double the number in 2009-10. In addition, 33 girls aged 16 and 17 were held in hospital last year, compared with 12 a decade ago.

Emergency detentions are intended for people in need of urgent care, and allows them to be held in hospital for up to 72 hours. Over the past decade, emergency detention rates had grown the fastest among both boys and girls aged 16 and 17, the commission added.

The figures were disclosed in a new MWC report into the use of emergency detentions and compulsory treatment orders authorised under Scottish legislation dating to 2003, which is also about to reviewed by the Scottish government to bring it up to date.

Dr Moira Connolly, the commission’s chief psychiatrist and interim executive director (medical), said it was unclear why these age groups were most affected. That had led the commission to prioritise that with its new inquiry, being set up by her successor, Arun Chopra, early next year.

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“The rise in numbers of times detention is used in relation to young people is concerning,” she said. “We already know of the increased number of children and young people seeking help for mental health issues, but we need to understand more about whether those pressures are now being reflected in our data regarding compulsory hospital treatment.”

Connolly cited a recent report by Dame Denise Coia, former chair of Healthcare Improvement Scotland, who found increased waiting times for child and adolescent mental health services, and a lack of good data. Coia called last year for much greater focus on prevention, social support and early intervention.

The commission’s study, published on Wednesday, found record levels of compulsory treatment across the population, including emergency detentions, short term detentions and compulsory treatment orders, at 6,028 cases in 2018-19, compared with 4,114 a decade ago.

The national rate for compulsory treatment for all age groups and both sexes grew from 35 to 53 people per 100,000. The data show wide variations in their use by different National Health Service boards in Scotland, with Greater Glasgow and Clyde the most likely to use emergency detention.

Alex Cole Hamilton, a Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP who campaigns on child welfare and mental health issues, said the data was a revelation. “These shocking statistics show people aren’t getting help fast enough, when they first start to feel unwell,” he said. “It also shows Scotland isn’t getting this right.”

The Scottish government suggested the increase in compulsory detention and treatment could be a result of the larger number of people coming forward for help, and a general increase in awareness of mental health.

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Connolly said it was “a bit of a leap” to tie the welcome decrease in the stigma attached to mental ill-health with emergency detention orders. She said a lot of things had to happen for someone to be subject to compulsory treatment.

A government spokesman said ministers were investing £250m over the next five years on improving mental health provision for children and young people, and were hiring 350 additional school counsellors and 250 school nurses.



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