Young people struggling with their mental health placed in prison cells

  • Over the last year lack of suitable hospital beds has seen over 200 young people held in police cells whilst they were suffering with their mental health. /images/mentalhealth.jpg

    Figures found by The Independent have found that police in England and Wales have detained 202 young people under the Mental Health Act.

    Responding to the figures, Marjorie Wallace, the chief executive of the mental health charity SANE, said: "It is quite unacceptable that anyone suffering from a mental health condition, especially a young person, should treated as a criminal. Nothing could be more damaging to the mental health of a young person than to be left isolated, unprotected and feeling they have done wrong, when they are suffering from mental illness. They are afraid, sometimes they are handcuffed, they have no means of contacting people and they are put into a cell alongside people who may be drunk or violent."

    The majority of the cases showed that the young person in question posed no threat to the public, but they were suicidal or in danger of self-harming.

    Police are able to detain children for up to 72 hours as a last resort under section 136 of the Mental Health Act if the NHS fails to find a suitable safe place such as a hospital bed or a psychiatric unit.

    The Health minister Norman Lamb said this weekend: "No child should ever be locked up in a police cell because they have a mental health problem." He said it was his "mission to help end this practice" and added: "We are not there yet, but we are making real progress."

    Sarah Brennan, of the charity YoungMinds, said it was important to tackle mental health problems at a much earlier stage. She said: "We created this situation by making it much harder for young people to access mental health services when they are first experiencing problems. We really need to prevent young people from reaching this point of crisis in the first place."

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