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Understanding CAMHS – for 11-18 year olds

A guide for young people explaining what CAMHS are, what support they offer and how you can get help from them.

What are CAMHS?

Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) are services that support young people experiencing poor mental health, or difficult feelings or experiences. CAMHS can work with schools, charities and local authorities.

This information can help if you're looking to get treatment and support from CAMHS. If you're waiting for help, you might want to read our page about appointments at CAMHS.

More about CAMHS

If you're waiting for help, you might want to read our page about appointments at CAMHS.

If you're already getting help from CAMHS, you might find it helpful to read our information on who works at CAMHS and problems you might face.

My friends in school told a teacher about my eating problems… The school and I agreed to arrange for me to see the school counsellor. She decided to refer me to CAMHS through my GP so I could get specialised mental health care.

What can CAMHS help me with?

CAMHS can support children and young people with a range of experiences and mental health problems. For example, if you experience:

  • Sadness, low mood or depression
  • Feelings of worry or anxiety
  • Low confidence and self-esteem
  • Problems with eating or your relationship with food
  • Problems with managing anger
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Problems with repeating the same actions or behaviours
  • Hearing voices or seeing things
  • Thoughts about wanting to hurt yourself
  • Suicidal thoughts and feelings
  • Difficult feelings after a traumatic event

When we talk about CAMHS on this page, we mean the free services run by the NHS in your area, outside of hospital. Find out more in our information hub about going into hospital.

We also have information on what to do if CAMHS won't help you.

It did take a while to find the right fit [at CAMHS]. But when I did, I was able to get some help out of it and I felt like I was able to open up – Charlotte, 13

If you're neurodivergent and struggling with your mental health, CAMHS might be able to support you.

However, because services are different across England and Wales, not all CAMHS teams will provide the help you need. If you need an extra type of support that your local CAMHS can't offer, like if you're autistic or have ADHD, try searching online for local services in your area. You could also try asking your doctor.

What types of treatment and support do CAMHS offer?

CAMHS can offer lots of different treatment and support options, like:

  • Talking therapies – talking 1-on-1 with a therapist about your thoughts, feelings and behaviours. You might sometimes have these sessions with other young people, known as group therapy, or with people you live with, known as family therapy. Some types of therapy are counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CAMHS might offer you different therapies depending on your experience and diagnosis.
  • Creative therapies – using arts like music, painting, dancing or playing games to explore your feelings, with a creative therapist.
  • Medication – advising on drugs and prescribing them to help you cope with how you feel, or what you're experiencing. For more information about medication, visit the YoungMinds website.
  • Inpatient hospital care – staying in hospital as an inpatient for treatment and support. Find out more in our information hub about going into hospital.
  • Physical health and medical reviews – involves support like nurses checking your blood pressure, taking blood samples, or creating meal plans to help with eating problems.
  • Crisis support – helplines and professionals who can help keep you safe if you want to hurt yourself, or feel like you may attempt suicide.

There's not just one option. You have to go down many dead ends until you reach the path to help – and it is out there, I promise.

Your CAMHS team will decide what type of treatment and support to give you. But they should ask you what you'd like and what you'd feel most comfortable with. Find out more about making choices on our page about problems you might face at CAMHS.

People who work at CAMHS might provide your treatment and support in different ways. For more information, see our page on who works at CAMHS.

How do I get help from CAMHS?

How you get help from your local CAMHS might depend on where you live. Most services have their own website where you can find out more information.

Normally you need a referral from your doctor, but some services also accept referrals from:

  • Schools and school counsellors
  • Social workers
  • Youth offending teams
  • Yourself, depending on your age and what your local service allows

If you can't refer yourself, you'll need someone to make the referral for you. If you're not sure how to get a referral, ask someone like your doctor, teacher or a trusted adult for help.

At some point after CAMHS get your referral, they'll contact you by phone, email or send you a letter. This might be to arrange your first appointment or to ask more questions about what you're experiencing. If you'd prefer, you can ask them to send appointment letters or texts to your parents, carers or guardians too.

Watch: CAMHS explained

Watch our animation to understand how to get help from CAMHS. 

You'll learn about the referral process and what to expect from your first appointment.

How can I find my local CAMHS?

To find your local CAMHS, see what support they offer and find out how to get their help:

In England, you may also hear CAMHS called:

  • Children and Young People's Mental Health Services (CYPMHS)
  • Specialist CAMHS or Specialist CYPMHS

In Wales, you'll usually hear them called Specialist Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (SCAMHS).

In some areas, your local CAMHS may have another name. If you're not sure, you can ask your doctor.

To have someone sit me down and tell me ‘yes, there is a real issue’, was unbelievably validating.

What if CAMHS won't help me?

After your referral, sometimes CAMHS may decide that their service isn't right for you:

  • They might not provide the type of treatment and support you need
  • They might not be able to offer you help right now because they're too full
  • Their waiting list might be too long for the type of urgent support you need

This can feel really upsetting and frustrating, especially if you've already waited a long time and you're not getting any support. If this happens, they should suggest other places you can go or things you can try that might help.

You can find other places that can help on our page about finding support.


If you're struggling to get help from your local CAMHS for any reason, you should speak to whoever referred you. They can help you find other ways of getting support. If you referred yourself, get in contact with the service to ask.

When I first went to CAMHS, they said that my case was not urgent enough to receive immediate care. As another option I was offered group therapy sessions. If I'm honest these did not help me much – especially as I struggled with social anxiety.

Will CAMHS speak to my parents, carers or guardians?

Your CAMHS team normally talk to your parents, carers or guardians to understand more about you and your home life. This is so they can help you in the best way possible.

Your team might also talk to them about what kind of help CAMHS could offer you, or ask them to come along to appointments.

  • Having someone you know involved with your treatment can help you feel more supported
  • You don't have to be on your own when you need to deal with things, or make decisions
  • They can help with practical things, like taking you to appointments or talking to your school

For more information, see our page on opening up about your mental health.

Realistically, you are going to need to miss school for appointments, which I hadn't really thought about. The school knew that I was going to appointments because my mum spoke to them.

  • You don't want them to come to appointments with you
  • You're worried about them finding out what you've said
  • You don't have a good relationship with them, or you're struggling with your home life

Try to explain to your CAMHS team why this makes you uncomfortable. You can also ask them how much of what you say in your appointment stays between you and them.

Even if you don't want your parents, carers or guardians to be involved, it can be good to have someone to support you. You might want to tell a friend or partner what's going on at CAMHS if you feel more comfortable with them.

If you do not want your CAMHS team to involve your parents, carers or guardians at all, you might be able to discuss this with your CAMHS team. But it really depends on how their service works, as well as your age and situation.

To find out how and when your mental health information is kept private, see our page on confidentiality.

When I was first involved in CAMHS, I was very closed off as I was afraid things would get back to my parents. It would have been so much better if I had known how CAMHS would handle my information, and known more about understanding confidentiality.

If you're LGBTQIA+, you might worry about CAMHS sharing this information with other people. You have a right to your personal information being kept private.

You can decide who knows about your sexuality or gender identity, and how and when you tell them.

You can find:

During my time at CAMHS I had a psychologist who, in response to me mentioning my queerness, told me to not tell anyone as I would ‘grow out of it’.

How long will CAMHS support me for?

However long CAMHS provide support for, this will be unique to you, but you can ask them for a rough idea at any time.

Some young people we spoke to got support from CAMHS for a range of different times:

I didn't realise how long I would be with them for. I underestimated how much help I would need and for how long.

Rather than deciding to go to adult mental health services immediately after CAMHS, they discharged me when I turned 18.

I was doing much better within a few months. I was discharged on my terms, when I was ready.

If CAMHS offer you treatment like therapy, they might give you a set number of appointments. After these, your CAMHS team should talk to you about how things are going and how you're feeling. This will help you both decide whether they can still support you.

CAMHS will stop supporting you at a certain age. In most places this is when you turn 18, but it can be earlier or later. It depends on the service and where you live. If you think CAMHS have stopped helping you too soon, you should contact the person in charge of your treatment and support.

CAMHS should also help you prepare for discharge or moving to Adult Mental Health Services (AMHS). For more information, see our guide on leaving CAMHS.

Always remember that needing support for a long time isn't a bad thing. I'm okay with knowing I might need support for the rest of my life.

What if I turn 18 while waiting for support?

Every CAMHS is different. Services should support you until you're 18, but this can also be different if you live in England or Wales. Some might start your transition to adult services from the age of 16, others might support you at CAMHS until you're 25.

In general:

  • If you turn 18 before your first appointment, they might not be able to help you.
  • If you turn 18 while you're waiting for treatment, they might not be able to help you.

While these age ranges might limit you getting support at CAMHS, you could also be discharged at any age, even before you're 18. But you shouldn't be discharged unless you and your care team both agree that you're feeling better.

Just before I turned 18, my mental health was not fantastic but I had stabilised. Rather than deciding to go to adult mental health services immediately after CAMHS, they discharged me when I turned 18.

If your age means that you can't get support, they should let you know about other options. This might include support you can get in your community, or advice on AMHS. If you need more information, get in contact with CAMHS or the person who referred you.

Find out more about adult services and other options in our page on leaving CAMHS.

I felt like there was nothing else that would help except from CAMHS, when in reality, local charities and support from school can make the biggest difference.

This information was published in December 2022. We will revise it in 2025.

The quotes on this page are from young people we spoke to while making this information. They've given us their consent to use their quotes in our information. The words, experiences and opinions in the quotes are not related to the young people shown in any of the photographs we use.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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