A guide to CAMHS

It's reassuring to know there is somewhere safe to go to for support with your mental health. But what is CAMHS and what happens when you go there?

Young woman sits in chair and speaks to male doctor.

If you're struggling with your mental health CAMHS can help.

What is CAMHS?

CAMHS is the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. These are local, specialist mental health support teams run by the NHS throughout the UK. These services are free and help young people under 18 who have emotional, behavioural or mental health problems.

CAMHS teams are normally made up of a mixture of professions including psychologists, psychotherapists, family therapists, nurses and social workers. Each service is similar but may vary from area to area. Some services will have longer waiting lists or will only see young people who are 16 to 18-years-old in full time education. It’s worth contacting your local CAMHS service to find out what they offer.

What problems can CAMHS help me with?

CAMHS can help you if you’re experiencing any of the following problems:

  • Feeling anxious or scared.
  • Having trouble eating.
  • Feeling sad.
  • Hurting yourself or wanting to hurt yourself.
  • Uncontrollable anger.
  • Hearing voices or seeing things.
  • Trouble sleeping.

How do I find my local CAMHS service?

The most common way to get an appointment with your local CAMHS service is through a referral from your GP. When you see your doctor, explain what’s been going on, how long you’ve been experiencing these feelings or symptoms, and what you think might be causing it. If your GP thinks you need specialist help they will contact CAMHS and ask them to make an appointment for you.

Other people who can make an appointment for you include:

  • A school nurse.
  • Teachers and other school staff.
  • Social workers.
  • Youth counselling services.

What can I expect after I’ve been referred?

At first you’ll meet with CAMHS staff to discuss why you’ve been referred. They will ask you more questions about what kind of help you want and what you’re expecting. This is called an assessment.

After this, CAMHS staff will tell you what they think might be causing your problems and, if appropriate, diagnose a particular mental health condition, such as depression.

If you don’t understand what they’ve told to you it’s important to ask for more information. You’ll also be told when to expect your first appointment.

What support can CAMHS offer?

CAMHS staff may help you by meeting you several times to provide one-to-one counselling. You can bring a parent along if you wish, or CAMHS may recommend they work with your whole family as a group.

You’ll be given a plan that will explain how your treatment will work and how long it will last. If you strongly feel you’re not ready for your treatment to end speak to your CAMHS worker.

Where do I go if I’m over 18?

If you’re already over 18 you will be referred to adult mental health services. If you turn 18 while you’re being seen by CAMHS you’ll still receive care and will be transferred to adult mental health services.

This can be a big change for many young people. You and your family should be told in advance when you’ll have to move. To prepare for your move you will be assessed to see what support you’ll need and a care plan will be drawn up.

Read our real life story on surviving the move to adult mental health services.

Next Steps

  • You can talk to Childline about anything. Call them for free on 0800 1111 or visit their website.
  • You can visit NHS Choices for more information. You can get quick advice when it's not an emergency on 111.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.


camhs| MH support


Updated on 28-Feb-2017

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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