Your guide to CAMHS
A beginner's guide to the NHS's Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) for young people and parents.
- What is CAMHS?
- How do I get help from CAMHS?
- What is a CAMHS assessment and what happens at one?
- Questions to ask at a CAMHS assessment
- Questions about your treatment
- Does CAMHS help parents/carers?
- Questions for parents/carers
- Moving from CAMHS to AMHS
- What are my rights?
- Complaints and how to make them
What is CAMHS?
CAMHS stands for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. CAMHS is the name for the NHS services that assess and treat young people with emotional, behavioural or mental health difficulties.
There are local NHS CAMHS services around the UK, with teams made up of nurses, therapists, psychologists, child and adolescent psychiatrists (medical doctors specialising in mental health), support workers and social workers, as well as other professionals.
How do I get help from CAMHS?
The first step to getting help from CAMHS is usually that you will be referred for a CAMHS assessment. This referral can come from your parents/carers, a teacher, GP, or yourself if you are old enough (depending on where you live).
If you're being supported by social care, a youth offending team, or a service at your school, they might also be able to refer you.
It's important to tell the person referring you as much as you can so you can get the help you need.
Most local CAMHS teams have a website where you can look up how to get access to their service.
"Try to be as open and honest as possible at your first appointment. These people are not mind readers and if you lie, you will not receive the best treatment plan for you to get better."
Read about Hannah's experience of a CAMHS assessment
What is a CAMHS assessment and what happens at one?
After you have been referred, you will be put on a waiting list for an initial appointment (often known as an ‘assessment’). This may sound scary, but it’s normally just a chat so the CAMHS team can get to know you a bit and see how they can help.
At this appointment, you will normally meet one or two members of the CAMHS team. If you’re under 16 years old, your parent(s) or carer(s) will usually be invited to join for part of this meeting.
This appointment will generally take place at a CAMHS clinic. But, in some circumstances, they may meet with you at your school or home. They will discuss with you the best place to meet before your appointment.
When you meet, the team will ask you questions to understand what you are struggling with and to get a better idea of what support you need. Here are some common questions they may ask:
- What has brought you to CAMHS?
- How long have you experienced the problem that has brought you to CAMHS?
- What would you like to change in your life? What might help tackle the problems you are experiencing?
- How have you been feeling recently?
- What’s life at home like?
- What’s life at school like?
At the end of the session, the team will talk to you about what happens next and what support they think you might need. You can also ask any questions you may have.
They may talk about your ‘treatment’ – this just means what you’ll do together to help you get better.
If you would feel more comfortable having a parent or carer in the room with you during your assessment, that’s fine. You can also see the team by yourself if you would prefer, though staff may expect a parent to be present for part of the meeting.
Also, if you or your parent/carer is not confident speaking English, CAMHS can provide an interpreter to help. Just let them know if this is the case.
Questions to ask at a CAMHS assessment
Your CAMHS assessment is a great opportunity to ask any questions you have. Here are some questions you may want to think about asking:
- How long will I have to wait for treatment?
- What help can I get straight away?
- Can you recommend any local charities that help young people?
- Who do I call if I have a mental health emergency? Is there a 24-hour phone number?
- If I get talking therapy, how many sessions will I get?
- Is my GP still involved in my care?
- What can I do to help myself?
It’s important at your CAMHS assessment to try and be as honest as possible, as this will help the team assessing you understand how to support you.
Here are some things that are helpful for you to tell them:
- when your problems started
- what you’d like to change
- if there's a pattern in the problems (keeping a diary or log book before your assessment be really helpful to show this)
- any difficulties in school or with friends
- any general health problems, either now or in the past
- any big family events or issues like divorce or bereavement
- any recent or past trauma, e.g. emotional, sexual or physical abuse
- other services you've had help from, like social care, hospital or private treatments
Questions about your treatment
Once your treatment starts, you can still ask questions to make sure you are comfortable with what's going on. Here are some questions you may want to consider asking:
- Do I have to take medication?
- If I do take medication, will I get a talking therapy at the same time?
- Is this the only treatment available for me?
- Is it a common treatment for people my age?
- Where can I find out more about my treatment?
- What if the treatment doesn’t work?
- What changes do you expect to see if the treatment works?
- Will it make me feel upset to start with?
- If I do start to feel upset what should I do?
- How will the treatment make me feel?
If your treatment involves medication, here are some questions you may want to ask:
- What are the side effects of the medication?
- How long will it take to make me feel better?
- Will I have to take it forever?
- Can I stop this treatment at any point?
- What do I do if I start feeling worse?
- Will the treatment cure me?
- Do I have to tell my teachers/friends/family?
- Can I join any local groups for children and young people having the same treatment?
- Are there things I can do to help myself?
- Are there things that I can't do because of my treatment?
- Will I receive regular check-ups?
Have a look at our medication pages for more information.
Does CAMHS help parents/carers?
Most CAMHS services work with the whole family to support a young person's health.
This might mean asking parents/carers to come along to assessment and treatment appointments, depending on your age and what level of involvement you want your parent(s)/carer(s) to have.
Questions for parents/carers
Parents and carers can also ask CAMHS staff questions at any point in the assessment or treatment. You or your parents may want to know:
- What can parents and family members do to help?
- How can I keep my child safe at home?
- Are there strategies I can use when they are distressed?
- Is there a diagnosis?
- What kind of help is available from the NHS?
- What if my child needs a lot of help?
- Can I get financial support as a carer?
- Who is my child's key worker or care coordinator?
- How does the treatment work?
- Will there be treatment sessions involving the family? Could we have family therapy?
- Can you recommend any groups or charities for parents?
- Can I still be involved if my child transitions to adult services?
- What are the rules about confidentiality?
- What if my teenager can't get help from adult mental health services?
If you need more advice on how to help your child with specific mental health conditions, or life events which might be negatively affecting their wellbeing, visit our parents guide to support A-Z.
Moving from CAMHS to AMHS
You will need to move from CAMHS to adult mental health services (AMHS) when you reach a certain age – this is usually 18 but can vary depending on where you live, with some areas requiring you to move services at 16. Your CAMHS worker should talk to you about this move three to six months before it’s due to happen.
Transition to adult services is a big change, so it's important to get as much information and support as you can from friends and family. First, your CAMHS case worker or care coordinator should help you arrange an appointment with AMHS and come along with you if you need support. If you don’t hear anything about this, don’t be afraid to ask.
You'll have an assessment with both CAMHS and adult services to decide what kind of help you can get from the NHS. You may not be eligible for the level of care adult services provide, but either way you’ll develop a plan for what happens next.
Make sure you also ask about non-NHS support like local youth counselling, charities or school programmes.
If you are eligible for adult services, your CAMHS worker should help you through the process of moving from one service to the other. The two services are quite different, so don’t worry about asking for as much help as you need to make the change smoother for you.
If you’re well enough to leave CAMHS without moving into adult services, your CAMHS worker, therapist or counsellor can help you make a plan so you know what to do if you ever need help again. This will include details of crisis teams and helplines you can contact whenever you feel in need of support.
Our bloggers Rebecca and Hannah share their stories of moving from CAMHS to AMHS:
Questions to ask about the transition from CAMHS to AMHS
Moving from CAMHS to AMHS can be a big change, and you may have lots of questions, such as:
- When will I transition to adult services?
- Will I get told in advance?
- What is an assessment of needs/discharge plan?
- Can my family be at my assessment meetings?
- What happens if I can't get help from the NHS as an adult?
- Who is my lead professional and who is my care coordinator?
- Who will be involved in the assessment?
- Can my family still be involved in my care?
What are my rights?
Understanding your rights helps you to be in charge of your own treatment. You should always:
- be asked for your consent if possible before treatment options are agreed
- be given what you need to make decisions, e.g. an interpreter if you need one
- know how to complain and what the complaint process is
- be given access to an independent advocate if you need to complain
Under the UN's on the Rights of the Child, your opinion must always be taken seriously when decisions are made about your treatment. Read more about your rights under the UN laws.
What information is shared and with whom may depend on your age, support needs and risk level. If you are under 18, a mental health professional may have to disclose information to protect you from serious harm. This is only done in particular cases and depends on each person’s case.
Complaints and how to make them
If you feel you have been treated unfairly by a member of NHS staff, whether that's in CAMHS, in an inpatient ward or in your GP surgery, you are entitled to make a complaint. To make a complaint about treatment in the NHS, follow these steps:
- If you're unhappy with how your treatment is going but you don't want to make a formal complaint, speak to the clinician treating you, or contact your local PALS (patient advice liaison service) at your hospital for confidential advice and support.
- Check the complaints process. Every NHS organisation has its own process, but they must all follow the same NHS rules. If you can't see the complaints process online, call or email the complaints department.
- Find out who to complain to. It will either be the service you used, or the commissioning group who paid for the service. The gov.uk website can help you find out where to send your complaint.
- Send your complaint and wait for a response. Your complaint should be acknowledged within three days, with details of what happens next.
- Need to take it further? If you're not happy with the results of your complaint, you can contact the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.
If none of this works, you can write to your MP who can complain on your behalf.
YoungMinds Crisis Messenger
Provides free, 24/7 text support for young people across the UK experiencing a mental health crisis.
All texts are answered by trained volunteers, with support from experienced clinical supervisors.
Texts are free from EE, O2, Vodafone, 3, Virgin Mobile, BT Mobile, GiffGaff, Tesco Mobile and Telecom Plus.
Texts can be anonymous, but if the volunteer believes you are at immediate risk of harm, they may share your details with people who can provide support.
Text: YM to 85258
Opening times: 24/7
If you’re under 19 you can confidentially call, chat online or email about any problem big or small.
Can provide a BSL interpreter if you are deaf or hearing-impaired.
Hosts online message boards where you can share your experiences, have fun and get support from other young people in similar situations.
Phone: 0800 1111
Opening times: 9am - midnight, 365 days a year