Twenty forced admissions into psychiatric ward every day in Belgium

Twenty forced admissions into psychiatric ward every day in Belgium
The Saint-Bernard psychiatric institute, in Manage. Credit: Belga/Benoit Doppagne.

Twenty people are forcibly admitted to psychiatric wards in Belgium every day, the Mediahuis newspapers report on Wednesday. Figures from the FPS Public Health for 2021 show that in one year, 7,553 people were forcibly admitted.

The majority of the admissions were in Flanders (4,396). This figure is much higher than in Wallonia (2,043) and Brussels (1,109). Most of the forced admissions were of people aged 20 to 30. But 303 minors were also forcibly hospitalised in 2021.

According to the FPS Public Health, one in 10 psychiatric admissions is forced. Psychiatrist Kirsten Catthoor of Hospital Network Antwerp sees a bright side to these figures as they show a "noticeable increase in attention to psychiatric problems in recent years".

However, she does admit there are less positive sides to it as well, such as a lower tolerance in society for disruptive behaviour and agencies such as the judiciary which shift people to psychiatry for safety and to avoid making mistakes. "There is still a huge lack of care, which can cause situations to escalate."

Something needs to change

Three conditions must currently be met for a forced admission: the person must represent a danger to others or to him/herself, he/she must suffer from a mental disorder and there are no other alternatives for care.

However, the sector is buckling under the pressure of all of the admissions, many of which turn out to be unnecessary. In a new report, Belgian authorities have been thinking about modernising the more than 30-year-old forced admission law.

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Under the current law, they ask for more time to assess whether such forced admission is really necessary. Therefore, they recommend a period of two days for observation first.

Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne is interested in the proposal and is working on a modernisation of the law, which he wants to pass through parliament before the end of this legislature.

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