More kids in emergency psych care

NICOLE MATHEWSON
Last updated 10:30 17/05/2013

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The number of children and young people being referred to specialist mental health services in Canterbury has skyrocketed as their parents and teachers struggle to cope with the effects of the region's earthquakes, the Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) says.

Referrals to the board's Child, Adolescent and Family (CAF) Mental Health Service jumped 27.7 per cent after the September 2010 and February 2011 quakes but have rapidly increased this year.

The service has seen 62 acute admissions to its specialist in-patient services during the first four months of this year, almost 70 per cent of what it saw over the whole of last year.

There have been 19 crisis admissions between January and April - exactly half the number seen in 2012.

In a presentation to board members yesterday, CAF clinical director Dr Harith Swadi said the severity of the cases was also increasing.

The service had dealt with just over 100 emergency incidents during each of the past three months - double what it normally saw.

"Young people are the ambassadors of their families. They have come to us with a message and I think we should listen to them," Swadi said.

"That message is that this community is stressed and this is what happens when the community is stressed."

Family violence, alcohol-related problems and adult mental health problems were among the key issues affecting young people in Christchurch.

Adults who normally supported young people, such as parents and teachers, had become exhausted and were no longer able to provide young people with the same level of comfort and help.

"It's everyday stuff that makes people stressed ... people with displacement, people who've lost jobs, people having to navigate through the traffic cones,'' he said.

''The earthquake is ingrained in everyday life now. It's like the war; it's become part of the fabric."

Christchurch needed an "installation of hope", he said.

"If we support the community in terms of managing the stress or reducing the stress ... our young people would fare a lot better."

Swadi said the service hoped to introduce a new mental health programme to schools next month in an attempt to mitigate issues before they reached crisis level.

Secondary schools were not required by the Government to have counsellors, but Swadi believed every school should have one.

CDHB Specialist Mental Health Services manager Toni Gutschlag said information about the city's youth mental health issues was being shared with other agencies, including the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority and the health and education ministries.

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"There's no point in us sitting on this information knowing what we're seeing in our service and not doing anything about it. We've all got something to learn from this."

CDHB member Andy Dickerson, of Parklands, said parents and teachers in his community had told him of teenagers being verbally and physically aggressive towards their parents, having suicidal thoughts and displaying isolating behaviour.

"I'm guessing that's coming about at least partly because of everything that's going on - marriage breakups, loss of homes or in other cases the uncertainty about homes and the loss of schools because of the gormless decisions being made there," he said.

Board member David Morrell said Christchurch had "never come to grips with just how stratified a community it is".

"The earthquakes gave us an opportunity to rectify that, but instead I believe we've made it much worse," he said.

By the numbers: Christchurch's adolescent mental health

- 27.7 per cent increase in referrals between 2010-11 and 2011-12.

- 62 acute admissions to in-patient services from January to April.

- 19 crisis admissions to in-patients services from January to April.

- 104 emergency incidents during each of the past three months.

- 56 per cent of referrals seen within a week.

- 94 per cent of referrals seen within eight weeks.

- The Press

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