Jerzy Owsiak on child psychiatry in Poland: "People cannot imagine how bad it is"

The topic of financial support in the amount of PLN 80 million for the child psychiatry sector, which has been in decline for years, was shared by the Senate, despite the fact that Marshal Grodzki declared help. PiS representatives voted against. This sector has been undergoing reform for almost a year, including with the support of the Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity. - There are situations in which children are treated in wards for adults. And the worst thing is that people cannot imagine how bad it is, which deepens the collapse - says Jerzy Owsiak.

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Since the beginning of 2020, the reform of the child and adolescent psychiatry sector in Poland has been underway and has been underway for several years. The psychiatric community has repeatedly called for the sector to be in decline. This was confirmed, inter alia, by NIK report on the availability of psychiatric treatment for children and adolescents, which was published last autumn. It shows that Poland lacks not only therapeutic centers and psychiatric hospitals, but also child psychiatrists and psychologists in schools. The effects of the collapse are as follows: according to statistics, we are among the top ten European countries with the highest number of suicides among children and adolescents.

Katarzyna Domagała, WP Parenting: At the beginning of 2020, Barbara Remberk, a national consultant of child and adolescent psychiatry, turned to the WOŚP Foundation for help in the purchase of equipment for psychiatric institutions for children and adolescents. Was it that bad?

Jerzy Owsiak, President of the Board of the Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity: The collapse is cruel. First of all, there is a lack of specialists: doctors and psychotherapists, but also equipment: beds, diagnostic tests, which are the basis of treatment. Another problem is the insufficient number of places in psychiatric facilities for children and adolescents. Hospitals are overcrowded to the limit, so there are situations where children are treated in adult wards. This shouldn't be happening at all! Unfortunately, these are facts, so we decided to help.

Were you surprised when you found out how difficult the situation is for young people in need of psychiatric and psychological support?

I was not surprised. I knew about it from the media. One of the reports about a young patient from a psychiatric hospital shocked me. As far as I can remember, his story ended tragically.

But to be clear - I am not accusing the doctors who work there. They often do not have access to modern treatment. The worst part is that people cannot imagine how bad it is in child psychiatry, which only exacerbates the collapse.

Is the lack of social awareness deepening the collapse? After all, it is the Ministry of Health that is responsible for the organization of public institutions.

Let us imagine what would happen if the Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity announced that the money from the entire finale would be spent on helping child and adolescent psychiatry. How many people - caricaturally speaking - would knock on the forehead?

If people are not aware of health problems and do not demand their solution, the authorities forget about them. As a result, everything collapses - as we can see now, not only in the example of child psychiatry.

How did the Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity help psychiatric and psychological institutions?

We bought 798 beds with hospital furniture and special seats, which are extremely important in this type of therapy. I am glad that this equipment has already entered psychiatric clinics. This is a sign that someone is thinking about these people. That they are not alone with the problem.

However, the most important are the specialized diagnostic tests that we bought 403. We want them to go to all psychological laboratories, because this is the basis of a psychological examination. These outposts are on the front lines.

What budget does the Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity finance these purchases from?

From 1 percent. We allocated PLN 8.8 million to support child and adolescent psychiatry facilities. We have already spent half of this sum and we are prepared for further actions, but we are waiting for psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists to be ready to cooperate.

Aren't they? In one of the interviews you said about the problems in cooperation with specialists responsible for the reform. What difficulties did you mean?

I was hoping you wouldn't ask about it, but since it happened, I am telling you. For all these help activities to make sense, psychiatrists and psychotherapists must speak with one voice, they must be determined to act together. We do not want to collide with disagreements - the medical community must close together. I don't see it yet.

I remember when we acted to improve the situation in neonatal departments. We felt then that we had all Polish neonatologists behind us. They all said with a common voice: "if you buy us these devices, we will use them".

First, the equipment was delivered to several outlets, and today it is a standard all over the country. This project was a success, incl. thanks to the involvement of the environment.

A few months ago, the Senate of the Republic of Poland, and specifically Marshal Grodzki, joined the discussion on the problems of child and adolescent psychiatry, declaring help. Today we know that PiS senators rejected the idea of ​​allocating PLN 80 million to support the reform.

We turned to the Senate and Marshal Grodzki to find out how the system can support the child psychiatry sector. It turned out that he was very interested in this problem, so we planned to organize a conference around this topic, but unfortunately the pandemic thwarted our plans twice.

What did you learn from these conversations?

For example, that recently the Ministry of Health has significantly reduced the budget for the reform of child and adolescent psychiatry. It is about tens of millions of zlotys, which were probably spent on fighting the pandemic. Well, it's hard for us to argue with. There is no financial support.

According to the NIK report on the availability of psychiatric treatment for children and adolescents from last autumn, which revealed the collapse of the sector, a serious problem is the lack of psychologists in Polish schools. Should it be the standard nowadays?

The situation in schools is very difficult, which is clearly felt by the students. I know they want change.

I even asked these students whether admitting to using a psychologist was associated with some kind of stigma. It used to be said: "oh, you go to a psychologist ...". A visit to a therapist or a psychiatrist was something strange, incomprehensible. Today it is different. Students know that mental problems often start at a young age, so they want to have access to help.

What are these problems?

For example those related to the lack of acceptance or hate on the Internet. There are also a number of problems with the sexuality of young people, which is largely the result of the lack of sexual education in Polish schools.

Another disturbing fact is the number of suicides. I read that in Poland we have one of the highest rates of suicide by young people in Europe.

We are in the top ten, which was one of the main reasons for starting the reform.

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