YOUNG people in crisis are being forced onto long waiting lists or referred on as adolescent mental health services buckle under an ever-increasing demand.
The number of children and teens seeking help has soared 66 per cent in four years and yet there is no dedicated child psychiatrist between Melbourne and Sydney.
North East CAMHS manager Lisa Gundish says the strain on services was “tiring” and she had been shocked by the increase in the number of referrals.
North East Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) also confirmed yesterday there had been no funding for more staff in at least six years to meet the increased workload.
Only nine mental health workers service at-risk youth in the North East.
Lisa Gundish, North East CAMHS manager, said the strain on services was “tiring” and she had been shocked by the increase in the number of referrals.
“I didn’t realise it was that much over that time,” she said.
“It just confirmed what we know was happening, and the actual figures speak loudly.”
And Ms Gundish agreed the statistics showed the Border was crying out for a headspace centre, adding that people aged 14 to 17 consistently took up one third of CAMHS referrals.
Overworked staff have voiced their frustration in having to redirect young people or tell them to wait at a time when they are in need and at risk.
CAMHS clinical psychologist Sarah Lyons has seen firsthand the anger and frustration of families who are told their child can’t be seen immediately, often forced to wait weeks or even months.
“They would say, ‘we don’t have any other options’, and I share that frustration in talking to them, saying it’s not ideal for us either to be turning people away or making them wait,” she said.
“We don’t enjoy it either but our hands were tied.
“It’s a shared frustration — for the community and for us.”
North East CAMHS already provides services for its maximum intake of 75 people but has also had to manage an average of 100 new referrals a year.
From 2010 to 2011, the service had 158 more referrals.
“We’ve had to provide a lot more crisis assessments; kids presenting as having self-harmed or suicidal thinking that are requiring a quicker response time, that’s certainly been a marked increase,” Ms Gundish said.
Across the Border, CAMHS Albury has seen referrals rocket from 11 in July to 50 in August.
It’s the highest number of referrals the service has seen within a month since 2007.
The pressure is also felt in the private sector.
A psychologist in private practice moved to the Border two years ago for work opportunities.
He began working one day a week but the demand pushed him to become full-time.
Ms Gundish and Ms Lyons said a passion to help young people was their motivation for working in the mental health sector.
But they said the burden public mental health workers faced each day now made them look to other careers.
“There is easier work around,” Ms Gundish said.
“We’ve had no additional staff to deal with it, we’ve had to restructure our service provision.”
Ms Gundish wants to see funding doubled but concedes that is unlikely.
“The impact that mental illness places on children and adolescents often gets overshadowed by demands for bed-based services and adult mental health services,” she said.
“CAMHS has always been chronically underfunded.”
Compared to an increased demand for youth services in the North East, adult services have seen a drop in referrals.
Wodonga Adult Community Mental Health had 1132 referrals in the year to July 2011, but had 84 fewer referrals to July.
Ms Gundish hoped a headspace centre could relieve some of the strain.
“If there was a workforce in the private sector, like headspace, who could manage some of these less complex cases, then that will help ease some of the pressure.”
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