Mental health services for children and young people in Ireland
It can be an overwhelming experience for a parent when your child is experiencing difficulties with their mental health. Sometimes, mental health issues can be eased by getting support from family or friends. Other times, mental health issues can be more complex and difficult to deal with.
You can access a range of free supports and resources to help you manage ‘mild’ mental health challenges and protect you child's mental health and wellbeing. These include websites like spunout.ie and yourmentalhealth.ie. You can also contact helplines and advocacy services that are funded and supported by the HSE. For example, 50808, Childline, and Samaritans.
The Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth has published a directory of the different services and supports available for parents, children and young people. You can also find information on helplines for parents and parenting courses.
If you need more support, there are mental health services specifically for children. The service or organisation you go to depends on what your child is going through, and whether it is considered 'mild', or more 'severe'. Even when a mental health difficulty is categorised as ‘mild’, that does not mean it is not serious or important. All mental health difficulties can be distressing and have a significant impact.
Knowing what mental health services there are and how to access them isn’t always easy. Here we describe the main services and how they can help.
- Your family doctor
- Primary care services
- Specialist services
- Private mental health care services
- Non-profit organisations
If your child is experiencing mental health difficulties, contact your GP.
You can visit your GP along with your child or young person. The HSE has a list of questions you, or your child, might find useful when you are talking to the GP or other healthcare professional.
Explain what you’re worried about and any changes, however big or small, you have noticed in the last weeks or months. Your GP is likely to ask lots of questions. It is important to tell the GP everything you are concerned about so they can either advise what to do next, or give you a referral for the right services, if appropriate.
Your GP may want to meet or talk with your young person alone for some time. That’s normal.
Your GP will identify the right support or service for your child, based on:
- Their age
- The type of symptoms they are experiencing
- The severity of their symptoms
- Their level of risk
Primary care services
The next level of supports and services are sometimes described as primary care services. These are designed for people who are going through ‘mild to moderate’ mental health difficulties. The types of support offered at this level tend to be brief and last for a specified length of time.
- Jigsaw offers free one-to-one mental health support for young people aged 12-25 with mild to moderate mental health concerns. Referrals for young people under 18 are accepted from parents and health care professionals. You can email or phone your local Jigsaw service to ask for an appointment.
- HSE Primary Care Psychology services are based in local primary care centres all over Ireland. They provide a broad range of free services to children aged 0 - 17 years of age. Each primary care centre usually has a team of occupational therapists, psychologists, nurses and social workers. Services include individual therapy, group-based therapeutic work for children, adolescents and parents, and various types of assessments. Referrals are accepted from healthcare professionals.
- Family Resource Centres are run by the Child and Family Agency Tusla around the country. They deliver free community-based supports to children and parents, and some services have access to counselling.
The next level of supports and services are designed for people who are experiencing moderate to severe mental health issues. The services at this level are sometimes described as specialist services. They are usually led by psychiatrists, and most of the people who are accessing supports at this level will have a clinical mental health diagnosis. To access these supports and services your child will need a referral from your GP or healthcare professional.
The main specialist mental health support for young people under the age of 18 is child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS). CAMHS is designed for young people with moderate to severe mental health difficulties.
CAMHS prioritises referrals based on risk, which means people who are considered at highest risk will be seen sooner, and those categorised as lower risk will wait longer to be seen. CAHMS assesses and treats conditions including:
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Moderate to severe depression
- Eating disorders
CAMHS have 3 levels of referrals:
- Emergency referral is when there is a significant risk to the young person’s safety, such as suicide attempt, significant self-harm or a severe eating disorder. These referrals will be prioritised and seen quickly.
- Urgent referral is where there are high concerns for the young person but it is not a crisis or emergency.
- Referrals are categorised as routine when there is no immediate risk.
Specialist services are also for people who are experiencing severe and complex mental health issues and need intensive support. This can involve a stay in a hospital or a similar supported living setting where a team of mental health professionals can monitor symptoms and give specialist support and treatments.
Inpatient treatment can be helpful if your child's symptoms are so severe that they are making it difficult for them to function, if their safety is at risk, or if they also need some physical health treatment because of their mental health issues.
Private mental health care services
Mental health professionals in private practice all over Ireland provide therapy sessions for young people under 18. You should check what experience they have with working with young people, the type of support they offer, and the cost per session before making an appointment. You do not need a referral from your GP, you can just make appointments directly.
Not all therapists are trained in the same way or have the same qualifications. Spunout has information to help you understand the difference between counsellors and psychotherapists and the types of therapy available.
Some charities and organisations offer services you might find useful when looking for support for your young person. Some of these organisations receive HSE funding.
Get urgent help
Call 999 or 112 if you or someone you know is about to harm themselves or someone else.