no room for teenagers

On Saturday I visited one of my close friends in an adult psychiatric ward in South Wales. She's been there for seven weeks in the one bed owned by CAMHS, treading water until she turned eighteen. As psychiatric wards go, it's not too bad - the other people there are mostly elderly and harmless. Hardly nightmarish, but for a suicidal seventeen-year-old not the most friendly of places, either. She's had nobody to talk to besides staff and visiting relatives for seven weeks, a degree of isolation which even the happiest disposition couldn't stand.

Last week I marathoned My Mad Fat Diary (which is fantastic, by the way), in which a friendship is forged in hospital between Rae and Tix. Through the walls of a bathroom stall, they feed each other hope. When Tix is asked what makes her happy, she replies "Rae". The hospital would be a much darker place for her if denied interaction with anyone her own age - and denied visitors, as under-18s are usually barred from visiting adult wards. The real Rae Earl has written this week about the issue of young people being placed in adult wards, which she calls "an act of utter neglect and cruelty". She references the statistics recently uncovered by the BBC: that the 2013-14 period has seen 350 under-18s admitted to adult psychiatric wards. While shocking on its own, this figure disguises a much wider problem. The lack of facilities for adolescents doesn't just mean that young people are forced into terrifying, lonely situations; it means that countless others at risk are denied access to inpatient care.

At the height of my depression two years ago, I begged to be admitted to the hospital. I remember sitting in accident and emergency, looking around the cubicle for some way, any way, to end my life. It was the second day in a row I'd been in that hospital, having been sent home after an overdose the previous night only to hurt myself again. I was desperate, and it was all I could do to ask them to keep me there, to keep me safe. They told me because I was sixteen, too old for the child ward and too young for adult psychiatric, there was nothing they could do. They sent me home. I'm grateful for that now, having survived without hospitalisation, but it could just as easily have gone the other way. I mightn't be here today to be grateful.

The question of whether psychiatric wards are more harmful than helpful is a controversial one, and I'm not about to embroil myself in it. But the fact remains that if a young person is at risk of harming themselves, they need care - care which cannot usually be provided at home. Even in the most loving family, a parent with no experience or training in mental health cannot be expected to cope with a suicidal child; for young people whose suicidal thoughts stem from violence and abuse at home, sending them home is tantamount to a death sentence. Inpatient care for adolescents must be provided, and it must be safe.

The lack of adolescent inpatient care is a crisis in dire need of solution. Earl describes how a failure to solve it might mean "condemning a generation to torturous lifelong mental health problems." But for the others, the teenagers who are turned away from inpatient care because there's no room for them, "lifelong" might be a much shorter term.