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Older children struggling to transition to adult mental health services

Tuesday 10th July 2018
A new report has revealed sudden transitions from youth to adult mental health services can put excessive strain on patients at a time of heightened vulnerability.
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Older children receiving mental health treatment in England often have severe difficulty adjusting to adult services when they reach the age of 18, a new report has found.

The Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) said the 25,000 youngsters who have to make this cross-over each year are often left struggling by the transition, and suggested that more flexibility is required, rather than simply switching them from one service to another at a time when they are at a high level of risk.

Indeed, the report notes that the time of greatest vulnerability for adolescents with mental health problems is between 16 and 18. Not only do many have to make the transition between youth and adult services at the time, but some are ruled ineligible to receive adult treatment at all.

The report arose from an investigation into the circumstances of an 18-year-old male patient who took his own life after being switched from adolescent to adult mental health services. This led to the case being passed to the HSIB, which has the role of investigating incidents, not with the intention of recrimination, but to find valuable lessons to help shape best practice.

Commenting on the report's findings, chief investigator Keith Conradi said: "Young people’s mental health has received considerable national interest in recent years, with particular attention paid to how young people are supported in transition to adult services. 

"Experts have documented the elements of a safe and effective transition for many years, however, many young people still do not have a positive experience and, as a result, disengage from services." 

The report advised that the best way to manage transition is to allow young people access to adolescent mental health services up to the age of 25, if they wish to. 

It also said children and their families should be given more opportunities to ask important questions about these matters, and that flexibility over services is particularly useful for those with conditions such as autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Written by Angela Newbury

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