A guide on what CAMHS are, how to to access them, and what to expect from your appointments.
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:
CAMHS services generally support young people experiencing:
"I developed an anxiety disorder of crowded areas after losing a relative in the Manchester arena bombing."
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 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.
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."
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.
"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."
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:
"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."
In your first appointment, you will meet someone from your CAMHS team. They might ask you questions about:
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.
"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."
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 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."
This is a request to a service asking them to review:
The referral helps explain to the new service why they should see you, and what the best way to help you might be.
Sometimes referrals can be made by yourself, a family member or social worker. But they’re often made by your doctor as they understand your medical history.Visit our full treatment and support glossary
This is treatment that aims to help improve your mental health and wellbeing. There are lots of different types of therapies. Here are some commons ones you might have heard of:
These involve talking with a professional about your thoughts, feelings and behaviour. There are many types of talking therapies, such as counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). You usually take part for an agreed length of time and number of sessions.Visit our full treatment and support glossary
This means using arts (music, drawing, painting, dancing, drama) or playing games to express your thoughts and feelings.
It can also mean doing creative activities to improve your wellbeing and confidence. For example, writing or acting out stories with other young people.
You might take part in creative therapies in a group, or by yourself.Visit our full treatment and support glossary
This information was published in June 2019. We will revise it in 2021.
References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.