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A guide for parents Getting help for your child

Read our information and advice on accessing mental health services and finding the right support for your child.

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If your child is struggling and needs some help, you may be feeling really worried as a parent – and also like you’re not sure where to start. Remember that you and your child are not alone. On this page you can find the services, professionals and organisations that can help you, and information about how to access them.

Trying to find the right help for your child and finding your way around different services can be really tiring at times. Remember to look after yourself as you go – and to remind yourself that you’re doing your best and it’s not always easy.

Quick tips for accessing help

Speaking to professionals can sometimes feel daunting, and it might feel difficult to find the right words to explain what’s going on or what help you think your child needs. 

Parents in similar situations have found that the tips below can help.

1. Make a note of your concerns

Before speaking to a professional, make a note of your concerns and the times you have noticed particularly worrying behaviours or feelings. You can do this really simply by making a list on your phone. You can then take this with you to appointments to give the professional a clear sense of your child’s situation, and to support any requests for referrals.

2. Explore local services

If you’re on a waiting list for help, explore whether there are services available locally that you might be able to access in the meantime. Your child might also be able to get more immediate online support from organisations like The Mix and Kooth. You can find other online services and helplines at the bottom of this page.

3. Try talking to other parents

As you find your way around local services, try talking to other parents who have been through this, or speak to any friends or family who might be able to advise you about where to get started. For example, if you know anyone who works in mental health support, they might have a good idea about what’s available locally.

4. Follow up after the appointment

Where possible, follow up by email after appointments – for example with teachers or other staff at your child’s school – to confirm what’s been agreed. Then check in a week or two later to find out what’s happened. This is a good way to keep things moving.

I spoke to other parents and those who worked in mental health. I asked them what help they thought I needed. It’s always good to open the conversation up and talk to other parents and mental health professionals.
Nell, parent

Speaking to your GP

GP stands for ‘general practitioner’. This is the doctor who provides overall care to look after both your child’s physical and mental health. You can speak to your registered GP, or another GP at your local surgery, by calling your doctor’s surgery to book an appointment.

Your GP can help with things like:

  • speaking to your child to find out how they’re doing and what’s going on for them
  • discussing your concerns with you and providing advice
  • suggesting different types of support or treatment, such as counselling and therapy or medication (treatment options will depend on your child’s age and what they’re experiencing)
  • letting you know what support is available locally and making referrals. This may include CAMHS or other mental health support services
  • offering your child regular check-ups to see how they’re doing
  • finding local support groups for your child

Before making a referral to a support service, your GP will often want to see your child. If your child does not want to go to an appointment right now, you can still speak to your GP yourself to ask for information and advice.

GP surgeries offer urgent on-the-day appointments for when your child is really struggling. You can access these by calling the surgery first thing, or as soon as it opens.

If you don’t feel that your GP is taking your concerns seriously or you would like a second opinion, you can ask the surgery to book you another appointment with a different GP. It could also help to ask the surgery whether there’s a GP who has experience or specialises in young people’s mental health.

Your child might like to use our guide for young people to help them prepare for an appointment. You and your child can also use Doc Ready to help you think beforehand about what you’d like to say.

CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services)

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CAMHS is a free, NHS-run service that helps children and young people with their mental health. CAMHS provide support and treatment such as counselling and therapy, medication (usually prescribed by a child and adolescent psychiatrist) and staying in hospital (also called ‘inpatient care’). You might also hear this service referred to as CYPMHS (Children and Young People’s Mental Health Services).

CAMHS teams are usually 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.

Each CAMHS is a local service run by a local team in your area. This means each CAMHS around the country is slightly different and may offer different types of support, and that waiting times can vary between different areas.

Each local CAMHS has their own website, where you should be able to find information about how your local service works. You can find this website by doing an online search (for example by Googling ‘CAMHS’ and the name of your local area), or by searching your local NHS organisation’s website, which you can find using this NHS tool

If you want to find out more about how your child can access the service and what support is available, it might be easiest to call your local CAMHS to get some more detailed information. Their contact details should be on the website.

If you’re struggling to find information about your local CAMHS, speak to your doctor’s surgery who will be able to direct you to the right place.

The first step to getting a CAMHS referral is often to speak to your GP, who can make the referral and give you information about what the service provides.

Your child can also be referred by other professionals such as a member of staff at your child’s school, a social worker or a youth worker. Or, these professionals can write a letter to your local CAMHS to support a referral that has already been made.

Some CAMHS will also accept self-referrals from families, which means you can refer your child yourself. You can speak to your local CAMHS team to find out whether this is the case for your area.

For more information about how CAMHS assessments and appointments work, including questions you might like to as a parent or carer, look at our guide for young people.

Counselling and therapy

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Counselling and therapy (sometimes called ‘psychotherapy’) are both types of talking therapy that involve talking about – or exploring through art and other creative materials – feelings, thoughts and experiences. This can help your child to make sense of what’s going on in their life and find ways of coping when things are difficult.

You can access counselling or therapy for your child through:

  • your GP, who can refer them to services provided by the NHS (including CAMHS) and/or other local organisations.
  • your child’s school, college or university – some of which offer free or subsidised counselling services.
  • local free or subsidised counselling services, which you can find by searching online and/or using the Youth Access directory.
  • a private counsellor or therapist, who you can find using the directories listed in our guide if this is an affordable option for you.

For more information about how counselling works and how to access it, take a look at our guide for parents and carers.

Read our parents guide to counselling and therapy
Therapy helped me to gain a better understanding about how I was feeling and it allowed me to learn how to cope with my emotions without getting overwhelmed by them.
Laura, young person

School, college and university

If your child is struggling and they are still at school or college, it can help to be open with the school about what’s going on and what support your child needs. You can do this by emailing, phoning or arranging a face-to-face meeting with any member of staff – such as their teacher, form tutor or head of year, the SENCO (the coordinator for special educational needs support), a member of the pastoral team or the school nurse if there is one.

Depending on their age, it may be important to make sure your child feels some control over the information that’s shared about them – for example by discussing with them who they would feel most comfortable for you to speak to in the first instance.

Depending on what’s going on for your child, you might want to ask for some of the following things:

  • linking your child with a member of staff, for example from the pastoral team, who they can chat to when they’re struggling
  • linking your child with a peer buddy or mentor
  • finding a way for your child to feel more part of the school or college community, or to manage unstructured lunch and break times, for example by joining a club
  • offering a flexible start-time or timetable
  • referring your child for support such as counselling, to CAMHS or to other local mental health services

If your child needs to access mental health support at university, you can find out how to go about this on the Student Minds website.

You can find more tips on working with your child’s school in our guide.

School anxiety and refusal

Other local support services

You may be able to access other mental health support services in your local area, including counselling or therapy organisations, support groups, drop-in sessions, clubs or mentoring schemes and charities supporting young people experiencing specific issues.

You can search for these online, or by using the Youth Wellbeing and Youth Access directories.

Just keep going and explore all the options you can. Don’t exclude any options and pursue every avenue. Talk to other parents, especially someone who might be able to give you advice about what’s available in your local area or in the regional area.
Nell, parent

Getting urgent help

  • If you are worried that your child is at immediate risk of harm, or is not safe, call 999 or take them to A&E.
  • Some parents tell us that taking their child to A&E in this situation can feel strange. Remember that this is the right thing to do. The NHS is very clear that a mental health emergency should be taken as seriously as a physical one – and that you will not be wasting anyone’s time.
  • You can also contact your local NHS urgent mental health helpline (England only) or 111 for 24-hour advice and support.

YoungMinds Parents Helpline

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We offer three different services to parents and carers who are concerned about their child’s mental health (up to the age of 25). You can contact us by phone, email or webchat for information, advice and support.

To find out more about these services and how to make use of them, have a look at our Parents Helpline and Webchat page.

Parents Helpline and Webchat

Support for you

Supporting a young person who is struggling can be incredibly worrying and exhausting – and it’s entirely understandable if you are finding things difficult at the moment.

It’s so important to recognise the impact the situation is having on you, and to think about ways you can take care of yourself – including getting support from other people so that you can take some time off. Remember that it’s okay to ask for help when you need it, and to share your worries with someone you trust.

As parents, we often (innocently and with the best of intentions) place taking care of ourselves at the bottom of the list of priorities. With our to-do lists multiplying overnight, that much-needed ‘me time’ inevitably starts to slip further down the list. But looking after our own wellbeing and self-care is so important.
Kate, parent

Many parents find it helpful to reach out to other parents so they can talk through how they have handled difficult situations with their children and get support. You can connect with other parents by:

You can also find support services such as counselling or therapy through your GP and other local organisations, or privately if this is an affordable option for you.

Sometimes it helps just having someone there who can listen to what you’re going through – and if you need someone to talk to, you can call the Samaritans anytime on 116 123.

Samaritans

Useful helplines and websites

  • The Mix

    Offers support to anyone under 25 about anything that’s troubling them.

    Email support available via their online contact form.

    Free 1-2-1 webchat service available.

    Free short-term counselling service available.

    Opening times:
    4pm - 11pm, seven days a week
  • Childline

    If you’re under 19 you can confidentially call, chat online or email about any problem big or small.

    Sign up for a free Childline locker (real name or email address not needed) to use their free 1-2-1 counsellor chat and email support service.

    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.

    Opening times:
    9am - midnight, 365 days a year
  • YoungMinds Textline

    Text YM to 85258

    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.

    Opening times:
    24/7
  • CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably)

    Provides support to anyone in the UK who is feeling down and needs to talk or find information.

    Free webchat service available.

    Information about the helpline and how it works available here.

    Opening times:
    5pm - midnight, 365 days a year
  • Muslim Youth Helpline

    Provides faith and culturally sensitive support for young Muslims. 

    Online chat service available during opening hours.

    Opening times:
    4pm - 10pm, 365 days a year
  • Boloh

    Supports Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic children (11+), young people and parents and carers who have been affected by Covid-19. You can call to talk through any worry or problem, including around issues such as bereavement, physical or mental health, financial issues or unemployment, or bullying and racism.

    You can speak to someone in English, Gujarati, Urdu, Bengali, French, Spanish, Arabic, Punjabi, Mirpuri, Pothwari, Hinko, Hindi and Sundhi. Interpreters are available for other languages.

    Webchat service available here during opening hours.

    Opening times:
    10am - 8pm, Monday - Friday; 10am - 3pm on Saturdays and Sundays
  • MeeToo

    A free app for teenagers (11+) providing resources and a fully-moderated community where you can share your problems, get support and help other people too.

    Can be downloaded from Google Play or App Store.

  • Ollee

    A virtual friend for 8-11 year olds and their parents that helps families think about feelings and talk about difficult topics. You can download the app here

  • Samaritans

    Whatever you're going through, you can contact the Samaritans for support.

    Opening times:
    24/7
  • Papyrus

    Offers confidential advice and support for young people struggling with suicidal thoughts.

    Its helpline service - HOPELINEUK - is available to anybody under the age of 35 experiencing suicidal thoughts, or anybody concerned that a young person could be thinking of suicide.

    Opening times:
    9am – midnight, 365 days a year