Mental Health

Bara no place for psychiatric adolescents

A lack of space has forced psychiatrists at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital to accommodate adolescents as young as 13 in the same wards as adult psychiatric patients, often risking their safety.

‘€œThis has tremendous implications for the teenagers’€™ safety,’€ said child psychologist Wendy Duncan.

‘€œBut if the young person needs secure care, in other words, they need to be in a facility that’€™s closed, the door is locked, then we have no choice but to accommodate them here at Bara,’€ said Duncan.

‘€œ If they have a problem, let’€™s say for argument’€™s sake, more in the nature of a depression or they are not presenting that much of a risk of absconding or harming themselves or harming others, they can be in an open facility. We move them across to the facility at Tara Hospital as soon as possible. But, often, unfortunately, and particularly with young men, is it may be an early onset of a substance-induced psychotic disorder and these boys are pretty wild.There is no secure adolescent facility in the city for these young people.’€

Duncan added that young men are the ones whose safety is more at risk in the adult in-patient unit at the hospital.

‘€œWe find that the older female patients tend to be very protective and they tend to look after the young girls, whereas in the male setting, and because of the nature of the way the young boys present – they often are very provocative, very destructive ‘€“ we rely very heavily on nursing staff to watch over these boys,’€ said Duncan.

In the worst situations, patients have to be moved to Sterkfontein Hospital, a dedicated  mental health facility in Krugersdorp on the West Rand. But often the age of the adolescents can be a problem as Sterkfontein is only allowed to take patients from the age of 18.

The South African Federation for Mental Health’€™s Solly Mokgata says the hospital authorities are ‘€œout of touch with reality’€ by failing to make space available for teens.  

Mokgata said it was very important to provide facilities that would accommodate adolescents as their needs are specific. He said because of the vulnerabilities that they have, adolescents need to be in safe environments.  

‘€œThe real challenge is sodomy ‘€“ the sodomising of young boys and also instances where young people start being forced to experiment with drugs; and also those young people themselves perpetrating other serious crimes, establishing networks that ultimately lead them into a life of crime,’€ said Mokgata.

 ‘€œIf we are not providing adequate rehabilitation facilities we are then fostering a situation where we’€™ve got a huge number of people that actually become more dysfunctional.’€

The Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital management failed to comment on this report. We were told that no one was available to talk to us.

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Khopotso Bodibe