The Riigikogu's Social Affairs Committee is to discuss changing the law to allow children under the age of 18 to get psychiatric helpe without parental consent, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera. Nädal" (AK) reported Sunday night. While experts have called for this to be changed, the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) has opposed permitting the practise, other than in exceptional cases.
A legal loophole prevents young people, meaning those under 18, from seeking psychiatric help without the permission of their parents. While the authorities have repeatedly called for changing this the legislation, young people are still left without help in cases every month, AK reported.
"Young people should always be able to seek help for themselves, no matter what their family members think. The blindness to getting help for mental health problems has not disappeared across all families," said Anne Kleinberg, a psychiatrist at the Children's Mental Health Center (Laste Vaimse Tervise Keskus).
Youth worker Erko Sõrmus added that the current law is mainly based on an assumption that all children have a supportive and functioning family.
Sõrmus said: "Unfortunately, in practice and in the course of my work, I can see that, unfortunately, the situation is different, that all parents either are unaware of or for some reason unwilling to deal with their child's problem. If they may not have the necessary skills, or they need help or they themselves are the cause of their child 's problems."
Proposed amendment has grown into a fundamental confrontation
The topic has been discussed six times at the Riigikogu's Social Affairs Committee, specialists have addressed the issue and the representatives of 36 organizations signed a joint petition to get the law changed.
Reform MP Liina Kersna said the issue had foundered at the Riigikogu.
Kersna said: "It has been a year and a half since the Chancellor of Justice drew the state's attention to the fact that this small change in the law is fair and necessary for young people. Today we are at the stage where the Riigikogu Social Affairs Committee has been discussing this issue for almost a year."
Kersna said several ministries including the education and social affairs ministry and ministers, as well as the prime minister, had discussed the matter at length but no progress had been made yet.
Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) MP Urmas Espenberg, also a member of the Social Affairs Committee, says that he agrees there could be exceptions where parental consent was not needed for psychiatric consultations for young people – such as when a parent was not present - but no agreement has been made.
At the same time, he opposed this as a blanket measure, citing fears that children might be prescribed too-strong medications, or that these medicines might get resold on the black market or that having mental health issues might become a fashion accessory.
Anne Kleinberg said that this should be up to the doctors to decide, however, adding that they have heard several cases of a child being refused psychiatric help by their parents.
Erko Sõrmus said that in two cases that he was aware of, this had led to suicide attempts, though luckily these had been unsuccessful.
"One of these cases is an ongoing process where the child had not dared to approach their parents, as the latter are very strongly convinced that mental health issues are something that is only a matter for the insane or severely mentally ill," Sõrmus said.
At the same time, resources are such that only 39 percent of Estonian schools have working psychologists available, which does not help things either, he said.
Urmas Espenberg said that named adult who had contact with young people could be a way around this.
Editor: Andrew Whyte