How To Find Free Mental Health Support For Children

Some GPs have suggested parents pay for private care. Here are the free alternatives.

Doctors are advising parents of children with mental health problems to pay for private care because NHS services are “overwhelmed” – but what do you do if you’re a parent who can’t afford to?

A survey carried out by mental health charity Stem4 discovered four in 10 family doctors had told parents of children suffering from depression and anxiety, self-harm or eating disorders to pay for private treatment, such as counselling, because of NHS waiting times of up to 18 months.

Some GPs who took part in the survey described CAMHS (the NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service) as “dire”, “extremely lacking”, “non-existent” and “totally, horrifically, grossly inadequate”, according to The Guardian. But with private counselling sessions costing anywhere from £10 to £200, many parents simply don’t have the option of paying for support.

So, what do you do if you’re too worried to wait? Thankfully, many charities and organisations offer their own services – from signposting free treatment, to online or telephone short-term support. Here are some options.

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Information and signposting

YoungMinds runs a ‘Parents’ Helpline’, offering advice and support to parents who are concerned about their children’s mental health. This can include advice on how to work with a child’s school or GP to give children the best possible chance of getting the support they need. It also offers lots of advice for parents here. The YoungMinds Crisis Messenger text service provides free, 24/7 crisis support to young people across the UK. If you are experiencing a mental health crisis and need support, you can text YM to 85258.

Counselling services

Offers free, confidential counselling to children 24 hours a day. Phone for 0800 1111 (24 hours) or chat 1-2-1 with a counsellor online here. There are also message boards with topics such as ‘gender identity’, ‘your emotions’ and ‘harmful behaviour’ that can be used anonymously. There’s a handy ‘traffic light’ waiting time system for online counselling that tells you how busy the site is, and how long you might be expected to wait.

Provides free and confidential access to local counselling, advice and information services for young people aged between 11 and 25. Visit the website to find your local service.

Information, support and listening for anyone under 25. Features discussions boards and group chat, plus a ‘crisis messenger’ – a text-service that’s free and available 24/7 for anyone in immediate need of support. There’s also a live message chat service connecting you with trained volunteers, email support and a helpline - including a web-chat service for those aged 10-18. Telephone counselling is available for those under 25. You will usually be offered up to eight counselling sessions that last around 50 minutes each, and can help with issues such as bereavement (death) or relationship breakdown, stress or anxiety, sexual identity or gender identity, depression or sadness and low self-confidence. Phone 0808 808 4994 (free and 24 hours) or get support online here.

Shout is a free 24/7 text service “for anyone in crisis “anytime, anywhere”. Based on a long-running Crisis Text Line in the US, the UK version was launched by the Dukes and Duchesses of Cambridge and Sussex in 2019. All a young person needs to do to access is text ‘Shout’ to 85258.

Free, 24 hour confidential listening and support for anyone who needs it (adults included.) Call 116 123 (24 hours) or email

Eating disorders

This is the UK’s eating disorder charity. It runs online support groups and a helpline for anyone under 18. Phone for free on 0345 634 7650 (4pm – 10pm 365 days a year) or email

Suicide support

The UK Charity for the prevention of young suicide. You can call the Papyrus Hopeline free on 0800 068 4141 (open 10am-10pm weekdays, 2pm-10pm at weekends and bank holidays), text 07860 039967 or email if you’re concerned for yourself or for anyone under the age of 35. Papyrus doesn’t offer direct counselling but does offer advice on services such as counselling, CBT, medication, peer support, community mental health support, self-help and online resources and local crisis lines.

Drugs and addiction support

Frank offers confidential information and advice about drugs and substance abuse, whether it’s for you or someone else. You can call the free 24-hour helpline 0800 7766 00 (and it won’t show up on your phone bill).

LGBTQ+ issues

The UK charity for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and their allies. Stonewell offers information, advice and where to get local support. Call its free information service on 08000 50 20 20 and find further information and support on its website here.

Mermaids is a UK charity supporting gender non-conforming and trans children, young people, and their families. You can call its free helpline Monday to Friday, 9am to 9pm on 0808 801 0400.

Legal advice

Children’s Legal Centre

Legal advice and representation for children and young people, plus information about your legal rights as a child. You can contact the centre online here.

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