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Understanding CAMHS – for young people

A guide on what CAMHS are, how to to access them, and what to expect from your appointments.

This page is also available in Welsh.

What are CAMHS?

Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) are services that support young people with their mental health. You may also hear them called CYPMHS (Children and Young People’s Mental Health Services).

On this page when we talk about CAMHS, we are talking about the free services run by the NHS, sometimes called Specialist CAMHS or Specialist CYPMHS.

In some areas, your local CAMHS service may be called another name. If you're not sure, you can ask at your doctors surgery.

On this page we have information on:

Who does CAMHS support?

CAMHS services generally support young people experiencing:

  • sadness, low mood or depression
  • feelings of worry or anxiety
  • low confidence
  • problems with eating or your relationship with food
  • anger
  • problems sleeping
  • hearing voices or seeing things
  • thoughts about wanting to hurt yourself
  • difficult feelings after a traumatic event.

"I developed an anxiety disorder of crowded areas after losing a relative in the Manchester arena bombing."

What support and treatments do they offer?

Your CAMHS team can offer support and treatments, like:

The type of help you get will be decided by your CAMHS team but you should be asked about what you would like and what you feel most comfortable with.

"You may feel that you really should not be there… But the counsellors are there to help you and to enable you to leave feeling better supported to tackle the future."

How can I get help from CAMHS?

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

Normally you will need a referral from your doctor, but some services also accept referrals from schools, social workers, youth offending teams or yourself if you're old enough.

How can I find my local service?

If you live in England, you can find your local CAMHS service, see what support they offer and find out how to get their help by using the NHS search tool. Or if you live in Wales, you can visit your Local Health Board website.

When CAMHS gets your referral they will contact you and your family, by phone or by sending you a letter, to give you an appointment or ask for more information about what you're experiencing.

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

What if CAMHS won't help me?

Sometimes after speaking to you and your parents or carers to find out what support you need, CAMHS may decide that it's not the right service for you. This can be really upsetting and frustrating, especially if you've already waited a long time for your appointment and you're not getting the help you need.

If this happens, they should suggest other places you can go for support or things you can try that might help.

If you're struggling to get help from your local CAMHS service for any reason, you should speak to your doctor to find out what your options are and what other support you can get.

You can also read our guide on finding support, which has information about the other types of help you might find useful.

"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."

Will I have to wait for an appointment?

Sometimes if your local service is busy, you might have to wait a while for an appointment. This can be really upsetting and worrying, especially if you feel like things are getting worse.

It might help to:

  • speak to your doctor about other support you can try while you wait.
  • contact the CAMHS service to ask when you should get an appointment and if there is anything you can do while you wait.
  • explore other options for support, like help from charity organisations. See our page on finding support for more information.

"We were told that it would take some time as the waiting lists are quite long. While waiting, I received support from my school counsellor."

What will happen in my first appointment?

In your first appointment, you will meet someone from your CAMHS team. They might ask you questions about:

  • how you've been feeling
  • problems at school or at home
  • relationships with your family and friends
  • things you enjoy doing
  • things you would like help with.

This is so they can understand how you're feeling and whether their service is right for you. If it is, they will work together with you and your family to decide what kind of support might help.

Questions to ask in your appointment

You can ask about anything you're unsure of in your appointment. Having all of the information can make you feel more in control. It might help to ask:

  • What should I expect from CAMHS?
  • How many appointments will I get?
  • What treatments might I get?
  • How will it help me?
  • What do I do if I need urgent help?
  • Is there anything I can do to help myself?

"When I first went to CAMHS, I was terrified... I was convinced that needing help meant I was weak and pathetic. It took a while for me to realise that wasn’t the case."

Will they speak to my parents or carers?

Your CAMHS team normally talk to your parents or carers to understand more about you and your family, so they can help you in the best way they can. They might talk to them about what kind of help they could offer you and ask them to come along to appointments.

If you're worried about your parents or carers coming to appointments with you or finding out what you've said, try to let your CAMHS team know and explain why this makes you uncomfortable. You can also ask them how much of what you say in your appointment stays between you and them.

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

How long will CAMHS support me for?

How long you're supported by CAMHS will be personal to you, but you can ask them for a guide at any time.

If you're offered therapy you might be given a set number of appointments. After you've had these, your CAMHS team will talk to you about how things are going and how you're feeling. This will help you both decide whether you still need their support.

CAMHS may also stop supporting you if you become too old for their service. In most places this is when you turn 18, but it can be earlier or later, depending on the service. See our guide on moving to adult services for more information.

"I found it very strange being fully discharged, and it wasn’t easy to start with, but learning to regain my freedom and independence has been really important in my recovery."

< Back to our resources on how to get help and support

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This information was published in June 2019. We will revise it in 2022.

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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