Mental health services are free on the NHS, but in most cases you will need a referral from your GP to access them.
There are some mental health services that will allow people to refer themselves.
If your mental health difficulty is related to stress in your workplace, you can ask your employer what occupational health services are available to you. Check out the Time to Change website, which has a section dedicated to employers.
If you are at school or college, mental health care may be arranged for you. Read our information on child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS).
Some mental health problems can be managed without the help of a GP. There are a variety of materials available and local organisations offering help, as well as online services like on Ask Normen. You can also try our mood assessment quiz, which is designed to recommend resources to help you better understand how you feel.
For local support and information services, use our Services near you search. Try the following directories:
If you want to talk to someone right away, the mental health helpline page has a list of organisations you can call for immediate assistance. These are helplines with specially trained volunteers who'll listen to you, understand what you're going through, and help you through the immediate crisis.
The Samaritans operates a service 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for people who want to talk in confidence. Call them on 08457 90 90 90.
Also read our advice about dealing with a mental health crisis or emergency.
Your GP will assess your circumstances and offer appropriate advice or treatment. They can also refer you to a psychological therapy service or a specialist mental health service for further advice or treatment.
These services may be provided by your GP surgery, a large local health centre, a specialist mental health clinic, or a hospital. The treatment may be provided on a one-to-one basis or in a group with others with similar difficulties, and therapy sometimes also involves partners and families.
You have the legal right to choose which provider and clinical team you're referred to by your GP for your outpatient appointments. Clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) provide mental health services for their communities. You have the right to choose any mental health service provider in England as long as they provide a similar clinically appropriate service to the one your local CCG provides.
You don't have a legal right to choice when:
For more information about your legal right to choice, see the NHS Choice Framework on the GOV.UK website.
You can compare mental health service providers using the Services near you search tool – simply enter the name of the mental health service or the service provider and your postcode.
Alternatively, you can use one of these directories:
Once you have chosen a service provider, you also have the right to choose the mental health service team that will be in charge of your treatment. You will be seen by the consultant or named professional who leads the mental health team, or another healthcare professional on the team.
Once you have decided on a mental health service provider, you may be able to book your appointment through the NHS e-Referral Service.
This can happen in the following ways:
As in other areas of health, if your referral is for non-urgent care, you have the right to ask to be referred to a different hospital if you have to wait more than 18 weeks before starting your treatment, unless you want to wait longer or waiting longer is clinically right for you.
For more information, read our guide to waiting times.
The organisation responsible for arranging your care and treatment must take all reasonable steps to offer you a choice of other hospitals that can see or treat you more quickly.
Waiting time standards for different mental health conditions and care pathways are being introduced over the next few years. The following standards are being introduced in 2016:
Wherever you go for help, you will get a detailed assessment. The purpose of an assessment is to build up an accurate picture of your needs. Different professionals and agencies provide a range of services, which means your initial assessment may involve one or more professionals. You may be seen by a nurse, social worker, psychologist, specialist pharmacist, psychiatrist or a combination of these and other professionals.
During an assessment, the following points will be considered (where relevant):
You only have to talk about what you want to talk about. It helps to be frank and open, but if you are not ready to discuss some issues, you don't have to. You can always bring a friend or family member to an appointment to support you.
The outcome of the assessment should be discussed with you. You should have the opportunity to ask any questions about your condition, the diagnosis, possible causes, any treatments on offer, and how those may impact on your life. You should also be involved in the decision making about what treatments are best for you, and you should also be given information you can take home, as well as tips for additional research.
In most cases, when people are treated in hospital or another mental health facility, they have agreed or volunteered to be there. You may be referred to as a "voluntary patient".
However, there are cases when a person can be detained (also known as sectioned) under the Mental Health Act (1983) and treated without their agreement. The Mental Health Act (1983) is the main piece of legislation that covers the assessment, treatment and rights of people with a mental health disorder.
People detained under the Mental Health Act need urgent treatment for a mental health disorder and are at risk of harm to themselves or others. See our guidance about how to deal with a mental health crisis or emergency.
If your loved one has been detained, he or she will have to stay in hospital until the doctors or a mental health tribunal decide otherwise (read "Appealing against being detained" in the box below).
You still have the right to visit. Visiting arrangements depend on the hospital, so check visiting hours with staff or on the hospital website. In some cases, the patient may refuse visitors, and hospital staff will respect the patient's wishes. If you are unable to see your relative, staff should explain why.
With permission from your relative, doctors may discuss the treatment plan with you. You can also raise concerns or worries with the doctors and nurses on the ward.
Hospital accommodation should be age- and gender-appropriate. Not all hospitals will be able to offer a ward dedicated to each gender, but all should at least offer same-sex toilets and wash facilities.
For more information:
An emergency is when someone seems to be at serious risk of harming themselves or others. This can occur:
If you are already in hospital, certain nurses can stop you leaving under Section 5(4) until the doctor in charge of your care or treatment, or their nominated deputy, can make a decision about whether to detain you there under Section 5(2).
Section 5(4) gives nurses the ability to detain someone in hospital for up to six hours. Section 5(2) gives doctors the ability to detain someone in hospital for up to 72 hours, during which time you should receive an assessment that decides if further detention under the Mental Health Act is necessary.
In most non-emergency cases, family members, a GP, carer or other professionals may voice concerns about your mental health. They should discuss this with you, and together you should make a decision about what help you may need, such as making an appointment with your GP to discuss further options. See Accessing mental health services for more information.
However, there may be times when there are sufficient concerns about your mental health and your ability to make use of the help offered. In these circumstances, your relatives or the professionals involved in your care can ask for a formal assessment of your mental health through the Mental Health Act process.
Your nearest relative has the right to ask the local approved mental health professional service – which may be run by local social care services – for an assessment under the Mental Health Act. It is also possible for a court to consider using the Mental Health Act in some circumstances, or for a transfer to a hospital to take place from prison.
As part of this formal process, you'll be assessed by doctors and an approved mental health professional. One of the doctors must be specially certified as having particular experience in the assessment or treatment of mental illness.
Read more about getting a mental health assessment.
The length of time you could be detained depends on the type of mental health condition you have and your personal circumstances at the time. You could be detained for:
During these periods, assessments will be regularly carried out by the doctor in charge of your care to determine whether it is safe for you to be discharged and what further treatment is required, if any.
You should always be given information about your rights under the Mental Health Act.
Read the Royal College of Psychiatrists' Q&A about being sectioned in England and Wales.
CAMHS is used as a term for all services that work with children and young people who have difficulties with their emotional or behavioural wellbeing.
Local areas have a number of different support services available. These might be from the statutory, voluntary or school-based sector, such as an NHS trust, local authority, school or charitable organisation.
Children and young people may need help with a wide range of issues at different points in their lives. Parents and carers may also need help and advice to deal with behavioural or other problems their child is experiencing. Parents, carers and young people can receive direct support through CAMHS.
Specialist CAMHS are NHS mental health services that focus on the needs of children and young people. They are multidisciplinary teams that often consist of:
The age children and young people move to another service can differ. For example, some transition at 16, others at 18 or older. Transition between services can be a scary time for young people as the teams they know and are used to working with change.
It is important everyone involved understands the process and feels supported and prepared to try to ensure the transition is as smooth as possible. Your CAMHS team should work closely with you to support the transition. For example, you could have a joint meeting with your current team and the new adult mental health services.
YoungMinds has put together a range of guides with tips and advice about transition, including a guide to transition for young people (PDF, 447kb), as well as information for parents and carers and information for professionals (PDF, 835kb).
My CAMHS choices also has a Moving On page, with videos answering questions about leaving CAMHS.
A lot of organisations have helpful information about what CAMHS services offer.