CHRONIC SHORTAGES of treatment facilities and trained psychiatrists to care for young people who self-harm are leaving many vulnerable children and teenagers at risk, experts warn today.
Some of the most damaged people - in their teens and early twenties - are being left "in limbo" because they are deemed too old for adolescent mental health services and too young for adult psychiatric units. Doctors and charities called for a huge increase in funding to tackle the growing epidemic of self-harm in Britain.
The calls come as the Government's drugs watchdog issued the first guidelines on treating people who self-harm.
A study by the Mental Health Foundation found that a third of under-18s who need in-patient psychiatric treatment are "inappropriately" admitted to adult wards rather than a specialist young people's unit.
There are just 900 specialist in-patient beds across England and Wales for young people - yet more than 25,000 teenagers a year are admitted to hospital after self-harming.
Dr Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said: "This is a very serious problem. Some parents have described it as a black hole that their child falls into when they try to access help.
"Mental health has always been the Cinderella service of the NHS but adolescent mental health is the Cinderella service of the Cinderella service."
He added: "Adult psychiatric beds are totally inappropriate for children and teenagers, and specialist places for children are few and far between.
"Adolescence is when problems often manifest themselves - if they are left untreated until they are adults, they may develop serious dysfunctional behaviour."
One in 10 young people has self-harmed by the time they have reached 16 years old, according to recent research.
Experts said that children as young as seven were starting to self-harm, yet very little research has been conducted into how they should be treated. The Mental Health Foundation is shortly to publish the results of a two- year investigation into self-harm among young people and the provision of care for them.
The Government's drugs and therapy assessment body the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice) has released new treatment guidelines for people who self-harm in response to growing concerns about the scale of the problem. As revealed in The Independent yesterday, more than 170,000 people a year attend hospital A&E departments after deliberately hurting themselves. …