A teenage girl with mental health problems has described her “terrifying” experience of being cared for on an adult ward.
Sascha, 16, from west Cornwall, says she was treated alongside terminally ill people and patients with dementia.
She was on the ward for three months as there are no beds for children with mental health conditions in the county.
The head of Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust said “the families are owed an apology” on behalf of the NHS.
“It just really wasn’t a very good place to be,” said Sascha, who is now being treated 150 miles from home at an NHS unit in Bridgwater, Somerset.
“I just didn’t know what was going on, everything was very surreal. It was really anxiety-provoking. I didn’t know what I was going to do to myself.”
The latest figures show that in September this year, 19 children from Cornwall who needed highly specialist psychiatric help were cared for out of the county.
The number of children presenting at Royal Cornwall Hospital’s emergency department with mental health problems have risen from 5 in 2012 to 76 in the first six months of 2016.
Sascha shared a room with people with dementia. She watched as those around her battled cancer. She was there when people died.
“It was terrifying. It was really sad,” she said.
Sascha was put on a general ward in a hospital in Cornwall, even though she was a teenager in the middle of a mental health crisis.
There are no beds for children with mental health problems in the county, and the numbers of young people needing help are increasing.
Sascha had a woman sit at her feet and scream at someone who was not there – the woman tried to go to the toilet at the end of her bed.
“I told the staff and they all found it hilarious,” said Sascha. “They thought it was really funny.”
But she says the experience made her anxiety worse and made her feel alone.
“I was nearly sent up to Scotland,” she said. “It almost makes you feel criminalised.”
She has chosen to speak out to show that an improvement is needed in mental health services for young people.
“The more people that know about it, the more likely we are to get the mental health services we want and need in Cornwall – and that other people going through similar situations feel like they’re not the only ones.”
Chloe Hodge, 18, has been in mental health units all over England. She has not been home for three years – at one point she was 350 miles away in Colchester, Essex.
She is currently being treated in south Wales, 200 miles from her home in Grampound Road, Cornwall.
“I love doing family stuff and really miss that,” she said. “I can’t wait to get out of here so I can do it again.”
Phil Confue, chief executive of Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, said there were plans for a 12-bed children’s mental health unit but they are waiting for NHS England to fund it.
“The delay is with NHS England,” he said. “In Cornwall if you’re a child in Penzance, the nearest unit – and there often isn’t a bed available in the nearest unit – is more than 70 miles away.
“If you’re in London that’s the equivalent of going from London to Birmingham – that would be unacceptable. We don’t understand why it’s acceptable for Cornish children to do that.”
Sharon and Steve Cowburn, whose 18-year-old son Ben took his own life in an adult hospital, have been fighting for a children’s unit in Cornwall for six years.
“My son died in inappropriate care in Cornwall,” Mrs Cowburn said.
“I just think that after six years we should definitely have seen some progress for this amazing unit which would make so much difference to so many families”
A spokesperson from NHS England originally told the BBC additional beds would be in place by 2017, but later said it could not put a date on the changes.
“Health and care organisations across Cornwall are working together to finalise their strategic plan for the area,” said NHS England.
“It is a priority within this plan to improve access to high quality, specialist mental health care that keeps young people closer to home and their families wherever possible and appropriate.”
Inside Out South West is on BBC One on Friday 21 October at 19:30 BST and on the iPlayer for 30 days thereafter.
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