CAMHS Research Report: Issues with the cut off age

March 15th 2017

When approaching mental health services at any age there is a lot to consider. If you are brand new to mental health service then you may be rather apprehensive about what to expect. There are concerns regarding what treatments you will receive (if any), how long the waiting lists is, if your treatment will be effective or not, the list goes on. For young people there is also the question of whether or not they will receive child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) or adolescent mental health service.

The main determining factor for this decision is the individual’s age. The upper age limit for CAMHS services is 18, corresponding to the age at which an individual is legal considered an adult, however the transitionary age from CAMHS to adult services can differ. After reviewing 60 different NHS trusts across the country it has becomes clear that not all trusts offer CAMHS services up to the age of 18, with some dropping as low as 14 years old. The problematic result of this unstandardized age cut-off comes in the form of a treatment grey area for young people within these transitionary age ranges. For example, a 17 year old who would be considered a child by law, may have to receive adult mental health services if their NHS trust only offers CAMHS for young people up to the age of 16. The reasoning for the lower age cut-off for CAMHS can be attributed to a variety of factors, but one which is frequently referenced is that CAMHS services are only offered to young people who are in school up to the age of 16. But again this leaves 16-18 year olds within such NHS trusts in a rather compromising position.

Some of the key concerns for young people having to receive adult service is that they may have to wait for a considerably longer period of time before receiving any formal treatment, the treatment duration may be significantly less, or they may receive no treatment at all. While everybody, regardless of age, is in a vulnerable state when confronting the challenges that mental health issues present, the lack of standardisation for the CAMHS age cut-off can create further insecurity and confusion for young people seeking out support.

Despite these CAMHS grey areas being problematic many NHS trusts do offer transitionary support for young people who currently receive CAMHS and are reaching their respective cut-off age. This is also the case even if the cut-off age is 18, because the age ranges are “up to but not including” the respective age. So, for example, if a trust offered CAMHS support up to the age of 18 an individual would no longer be able to receive that support as of their 18th birthday. However, as previously stated, if the individual was already receiving CAMHS support and reached their 18th birthday they may still receive the same support for a transitionary period. This tends to be decided on a case by case trust by trust basis. Ultimately anybody seeking out treatment under the age of 18 needs to be aware of the CAMHS age cut off under their NHS trust.

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