How to access mental health services

Mental health services are free on the NHS, but in some cases you'll need a referral from your GP to access them.

There are some mental health services that allow people to refer themselves.

This commonly includes services for drug problems and alcohol problems, as well as psychological therapies (IAPT) services.

If your mental health difficulty is related to stress at work, 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're at school or college, mental health care may be arranged for you.

Find out more about 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.

You can also try the mood assessment quiz, which is designed to recommend resources to help you better understand how you feel.

For local support and information services near you, you can search:

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.

Samaritans operates a free service 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for people who want to talk in confidence. Call them on 116 123 or visit the Samaritans website.

Find out how to deal with a mental health crisis or emergency

Choosing a mental health service

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. Therapy can also sometimes involve partners and families.

You have the legal right to choose which provider and clinical team you're referred to by your GP for your first outpatient appointment.

In most cases, you have a right to choose which mental health service provider you go to in England.

You do not have a legal right to choice when:

  • you need urgent or emergency treatment
  • you already receive care and treatment for the condition you're being referred for
  • the organisation or clinical team does not provide clinically appropriate care for your condition
  • you're a prisoner, on temporary release from prison or detained in other prescribed accommodation, such as a court, secure children's home, secure training centre, immigration removal centre or young offender institution
  • you're detained in a secure hospital setting
  • you're a serving member of the armed forces
  • you're detained under the Mental Health Act 1983

GOV.UK has more information about the NHS Choice Framework, your legal right to choice.

How the NHS website can help you choose

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.

Or you can use one of these directories:

See mental health services for more information about the different services and teams available.

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'll be seen by the consultant or named professional who leads the mental health team, or another healthcare professional on the team.

How to book your appointment

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:

  • your GP can book it while you're at the surgery
  • you can book it online using the appointment request letter your GP gives you
  • you can phone the NHS e-Referral Service line on 0345 60 88 88 8, open Monday to Friday, 8am to 8pm, and from 8am to 4pm on weekends and bank holidays

How long do I have to wait for my appointment?

Consultant-led mental health services are covered by the NHS 18-week maximum waiting time.

Find out more about NHS waiting times

Page last reviewed: 11/04/2019
Next review due: 11/04/2022