Updated: Oct 3
Accessing mental health support is becoming increasing more difficult for both adults and children within the NHS. There are a variety of reasons for this which include an increase in referrals to these services, but also a lack of trained and appropriate staff to undergo the work which is required.
Despite these difficulties within NHS Mental Health Services across the country, these services continue to strive to do their utmost to meet the demand and in my experience of working in these services, the frontline staff do an incredible job and work tirelessly each day to improve the lives of the people they work with.
Accessing mental health support can be quite confusing and I've often been informed that people are never sure where they should start. This can be confusing when thinking about accessing support in the NHS or privately, as there are a number of different services and different mental health professional's that work privately.
If you are an adult with a child who you feel would benefit from accessing support for their mental health. A good place to start is usually with your child's school. Over the year's the NHS has increased funding into mental health support within school settings and early support. Because of this increase in support, links between school's and children's mental health services have increase in recent times.
A helpful initial step would be to book an appointment with your school's SENCO. This role within the school is one which often has the most contact with different mental health services in the school's local area and they can make a referral into the appropriate service they feel necessary.
There are a variety of services which can often be accessed through your school's SENCO and this includes services such as local counselling services, bereavement support, MHST (Mental Health Support Team) and CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service).
Each of these teams play a different role in supporting children and generally depending on the severity of a child's difficulty, a referral to a local counselling service or MHST might be appropriate. A counselling service is often one which consists of counsellor's who are qualified to work with children and will usually provide 6-10 sessions, with counsellors generally working with mild to moderate mental health difficulties.
MHST's also provide individual support and guidance to teaching staff. They are not based within school's but they have direct links within schools and provide what is known as behavioural therapy to treating mild to moderate difficulties relating to anxiety and low mood. This service is a great resource, however they are often limited to around 6 sessions and might not always be appropriate if a child has specific mental health difficulties such as OCD, PTSD or other mental health difficulties which they are not trained to work with.
If a child is experiencing moderate to severe difficulties with their mental health or risk to self or a service such as counselling has been tried with little or no benefit. Then a referral to CAMHS can be considered.
CAMHS consist of a variety of mental health professional's ranging from Mental Health Nurses, Psychologists, Psychiatrists, Social Workers, CBT Therapists and EMDR Therapist's.
This service provides evidence based treatments for a variety of mental health difficulties ranging from OCD, Trauma, Attachment difficulties, PTSD and what people might identify as behavioural difficulties. As well as providing these treatment's they are also a service which make referrals for individuals accessing inpatient treatment, if they deem this to be appropriate.
Given the complexities of presentations which they work with and the demand on this service, it can be difficult to get a referral accept and if a referral is accepted, waiting lists can be quite long.
I would again advocate that a referral is made into this service by your child's school. Not only does this ease the pressure on your local GP who has little time to write a comprehensive referral. But it also provides this service with insight in relation to a child's presentation in school, something which a CAMHS team is often very interest in.
If accessing support through your school isn't possible, or you feel that your not being heard by your local school in relation to the concerns which you are sharing. Then it is often possible to make a referral directly to your local CAMHS service and some services also have a telephone number where you can speak with a mental health professional regarding your concerns. To access information on your local CAMHS service, search your local town or city along with the word CAMHS in Google and this should bring up your local CAMHS service and how a referral can be made to them directly. If this isn't possible and there have been difficulties accessing the service through your child's school, then do speak with your local GP who can make a direct referral to this service.
If you are in a fortunate position to have medical insurance for your child or have the finances to access private therapy or psychiatry support, then this might be the best option in terms of accessing support in a timely manner.
If this option is available to you, then I would ensure that you are accessing a therapist who has the appropriate credentials and is registered with an appropriate body and has insurance. There are a range of different mental health professionals that provide support for children, so it's important to ensure that where possible the correct choice is made.
As a professional registered as a Mental Health Nurse and a BABCP CBT Therapist who has worked in CAMHS for a number of years, I would always advocate that a child accesses someone who has experience in a particular field and has experience of working with children. This could include a CBT Therapist who is registered with the BABCP, a Counsellor registered with the BACP/UKCP or a Psychologist who is registered BPS.
If you do make an enquiry with a private practitioner, then do enquire about their experience of working with children, who they are registered with and be sure to check their registration online.
Private practitioners can be found in a number of ways, such as through searching on Google, looking on the BABCP website or through other websites such as Psychology Today, which has a range of different mental health professionals across the country.
I hope this has provided some insight in relation to how a child can access mental health support, whether this is through the NHS or privately. If you have any questions or wish to make an enquiry directly with myself, then please feel free to email me.