Involuntary psychiatric admissions in Flanders up 63 per cent in 12 years

The number of involuntary psychiatric admissions in Flanders has risen by 63 per cent in 12 years, VRT NWS reports on Monday. A growing number of children and young people are also being admitted involuntarily.

One in five adults will experience a serious mental health crisis in their lifetime. Sometimes they need professional help even if they do not want it. In Flanders, involuntary psychiatric admissions have increased significantly compared to regular inpatient admissions. 

Zorgnet-Icuro, the umbrella organisation for all psychiatric hospitals in Flanders, surveys its members every year. One in seven people in psychiatric hospitals was admitted involuntarily, according to the latest figures from 2022. 

"Even if there is a slight stabilisation in 2022, these figures remain very high and don't really decrease over the years," says Yves Wuyts, director of mental health care at Zorgnet-Icuro.

The regional figures are in line with an upward trend for Belgium as a whole, figures from the Federal Public Health Service published earlier this year show. "Despite a recent, almost negligible decrease, let's say stabilisation, this curve has not really changed," said Wuyts.

The fact that involuntary admissions are prioritised may play a role. People in need of mental health care in Flanders face long waiting lists. In 2021, the average waiting time for admission to a psychiatric hospital was three to six months. Opting for involuntary admission may help you get a place faster. 

"That could be an explanation. It happens," says Kirsten Catthoor, president of the Flemish Association of Psychiatry. "But it is certainly not the only reason and not the main reason."

According to Catthoor, the trend is mainly due to increased awareness. "Young magistrates, police officers and doctors are more alert. They are more aware of mental health issues. In itself, this is a positive development. But the other side of the coin is that involuntary admission is sometimes an easy solution for behaviour that causes a nuisance."

Hella Demunter, a psychiatrist at the high intensive care unit of the University Psychiatric Centre at KU Leuven, sees social changes as a possible explanation. "Unfortunately, we as citizens are less tolerant of deviant behaviour," she says. "There are more involuntary admissions because we are quicker to see problems. As a result, we can organise care more quickly, preferably with the patient's cooperation. But if that is not possible, it is done by force, sometimes even if the deviant behaviour is not a real danger."


#FlandersNewsService | Sint-Alexius psychiatric centre in Grimbergen © BELGA PHOTO BRUNO FAHY

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