The troubling tale of CAMHS: A service that is not fit for purpose

When we think of mental health services, I’m sure a lot of images are called to mind. Some people might imagine the institutions of days gone by, where people in significant states of dysregulation under the watchful eye of orderlies, nurses, and doctors. Others might think of therapy sessions, sitting in comfortable chairs with a well-dressed person employing Freudian psychoanalytic analysis.

If you’re an Autistic child, you probably don’t know what to picture; it’s likely you haven’t been given access to the service that is meant to support you. This service is the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service. You probably know it by a shorter name;


According to the Mental Health Foundation, 70% of Autistic people will experience a mental health issue. This already is deeply concerning. Mind asserts that 25% of the population will have a mental health issue in a given year. Why are Autistic people experiencing mental health problems at nearly three times the rate of the general population?

The Mental Health Foundation offers a suggestion for this as well; lack of access to appropriate support. In this case, CAMHS denial of support to Autistic children could very well be creating the mental health issues they are refusing to address.

According to a study from BMJ Open Online only 10% of the children under the care of CAMHS were diagnosed Autistic. Given that all the statistics that exist only really look at diagnosed Autistic children, we should expect Autistic children to represent the majority of CAMHS service users. However, perhaps the disproportionately high rate of mental health issues amongst Autistic people could be more balanced if we were getting appropriate support in the first place.

I have personally written about the negative effects that CAMHS failures had on me, I do not wish for another child or young person to experience what I did. Lets not forget that The Royal College of Psychiatrists suggest that Autistic people are nine times more likely to die by suicide than the general population. At what point do we acknowledge the role that underfunded and altogether disinterested CAMHS plays in these statistics?

Autistic children need robust support from competent and safe professionals. It’s not enough to simply see our children. These services need to create an environment where it is unheard of to refuse access because of an Autistic identity and lack of staff knowledge. Trust me, we know that highlighting their refusal to see us is just the start of this fight.

Part of the problem lies with the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and their guidelines for co-existing conditions in Autistic people. They are very non-descript and offer little meaningful suggestions for supporting us. Many of the suggested “interventions” don’t have a good evidence base or may even do more harm than good.

We need to create a world where being Autistic is more than an afterthought. There are so many of us out there, and yet society at large treats us like the cryptids one might find in the woodland of North America. Except I am not a questionably blurry image of an unknown creature, I’m a living, breathing human being.

Autistic people have lives, they have hopes and dreams, and we feel joy and sorrow. More than anything, we deserve equal access to the parts of society meant to support us in our lives. But when funds are cut to services like CAMHS, Autistic people are the first to become acceptable losses.

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