To donate to Christmas for CAMHS:

Making Christmas Magic For Young People in CAMHS Units (2023) - JustGiving

For the rest of Christmas for CAMHS links:

Christmas For CAMHS | Twitter, Facebook | Linktree

If you’ve been reading, I’m NOT Disordered for some time you’ll likely know that when I was fifteen, I went through a really traumatic experience that lasted six months. Across these months I turned to an unsafe coping skill and developed a really bad reputation at school with my teachers because I was angry at them for not realising what was happening to me or even, at the very least, questioning why there was such a marked change in my behaviour and attitude. Somehow though, I was referred to my local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) and sadly, it took so long to actually be offered an appointment that by the time I was, a lot of things had changed, and I was no longer willing to engage with the professional help and support being offered. 

Sadly, my story or journey isn’t a rarity; in fact, when I was arranging the event to celebrate the publication of my new book, I ended up talking about mental health with the staff who asked me what I had written about and two of them actually said that they were waiting so long for the appointment that they ended up having to be referred to adult services because they turned 18! This isn’t right, and it isn’t good enough. And so, I’m a huge advocate for being so proactive and for viewing children and young people with signs and symptoms of a mental illness as so important because failing them at that age, begs the question: “what chance do they have at a happy, healthy, and safe future?” I mean, I honestly believe that if I’d gotten help with my mental health sooner, I would never have gotten to the point of making that first suicide attempt… never mind the other three and the two-and-a-half years sectioned in a psychiatric hospital!

It isn’t just about physically and literally getting the help; it’s also important to recognise that how a child or young person is treated when they’re vulnerable, can really shape and influence their thoughts in some really drastic ways. So, if they are to feel isolated, ignored, and dismissed by mental health professionals, it can leave them having a negative view of psychiatric services on a whole and this could mean that if they aren’t given appointments at that young age and their mental illness continues into adulthood, they’re reluctant to reach out for help and support later in life. 

Now, anyone who knows me more personally than through my blog will tell you immediately that I’m a huge fan of the festive period – in fact, with my announcement that I’m doing Blogmas again this year (producing daily content every day from December 1st until Christmas Day) you can probably say this if you only know me through, I’m NOT Disordered! I really like to make the most of this time of year particularly because I have spent two Christmases in mental health hospitals, and I will never forget how disappointing and totally un-magical (if that’s a word?!) it all was to be woken up by staff telling you it’s medication time!

So, with my CAMHS story and love for Christmas in mind, when I spotted Christmas for CAMHS on Twitter, I decided to reach out and see if I could help promote the charity and so we put this little Q&A together to bring some insight into the charity, the work they do, why they do it, and even some advice on how you can manage your mental health at Christmastime…

What year was Christmas for CAMHS created?

Christmas for CAMHS was first created in 2016. This is our year of giving gifts to young people in CAMHS units across the UK.

Whose idea was it originally?

The idea originally began from an experience our now trustee Dr Ro Bevan had working in a CAMHS unit back.

Where did the inspiration and motivation come from to set up the charity?

Christmas For CAMHS was originally set up because Ro saw a huge disparity in the way CAMHS units were treated over the festive period compared to other NHS services for children and young people. We wanted to do something to change that.

In 2015 Ro was working in a children's hospital for those with a physical illness. That Christmas the children’s hospital had tons of presents donated, mostly from corporate donors - so many presents that there was enough leftover for patients’ birthdays until June of the following year! A year later, she was working in child and adolescent mental health and, in stark contrast, they had no presents donated at all. The patients had one present each, chosen by the therapy team and paid for by the ward - scrimped and saved from the NHS budget that is meant to cover therapeutic activities and other expenses. 

Ro posted about the inequality on Facebook and before she knew it, her post had gone viral with 1,032 shares and so many supportive comments. It inspired her to start Christmas For CAMHS the following year to support these children and young people who would otherwise be forgotten by the generous public.

How does the charity work? What does the charity do?

Our charity is relatively simple in how it works and what we do. We provide Christmas gifts and goodies (activities, decorations, ward gifts etc) for children and young people who will be spending the festive season in a CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services) hospital. 

When we first began in 2016, we just set up a simple fundraiser online where we raised around £1000 and managed to send around 300 gifts to young people in units that year. Since then, we have grown to be able to reach every CAMHS unit in the UK, but we still work in a pretty similar way! We have our online fundraising page running each year where people donate either as individuals or on behalf of fundraisers they have run in their local community or with work colleagues. We also get some corporate donations and people setting up their own fundraising pages to do amazing challenges to raise money for us (last year one fundraiser ran a marathon around a Christmas tree!). We also have a wish list where people can donate specific chosen gifts to us. This fundraising enables us to purchase gifts and activities.

At the same time as this, our team is reaching out to every CAMHS unit in the UK to ask the staff that work there how many young people they might have over Christmas (we usually send for how many beds they have as some units won't know until the last minute who they’ll have in). We also ask them what they think their young people might like, picking from a list of tried and tested categories, and the age range of their young people. Our elves then work night and day to ensure that gifts are bought that align with what each CAMHS unit has requested and that are safe for young people in hospital for their mental health to be given. 

Once the gifts have arrived we have a major ‘packing weekend,’ which tends to happen in Bath. During this, volunteers come and help us pack up massive boxes with all the assigned gifts, some Christmas decorations, some activities (such as colour in paper chains or blank cards), a Wellbeing Advent Calendar, some fidget toys and an extra ‘ward gift’ for each ward to enjoy together. We don’t wrap the gifts, so the wards can check them, but we do provide wrapping paper and sticky gift tags. We also provide a bigger gift, when requested, for young people on the wards who may not receive a gift from anyone else this Christmas, such as young people who have no family support. 

The gifts then get delivered to each CAMHS ward ahead of Christmas day. In 2022, we sent almost 1500 individual gifts, as well as 46 additional gifts for young people in particular need, in addition to 96 advent calendars, 133 decoration and activity kits and 135 ward gifts - plus over a thousand fidget toys and lots of homemade Christmas Cards. We were delighted to raise £17,000 over a 12 month period, which enables us to keep going for Christmas 2023.

This year we are also sending wards some paper chain ‘strips’ with cheesy cracker jokes written on them, made by members of the public and assembled by young people on the wards, providing a tangible reminder that we are all still connected despite what the young people are going through.

Do you have volunteers and/or staff with experience of CAMHS or other mental health services? 

We do! We’ve actually reached a stage where young people who received gifts from us whilst they were on CAMHS wards a previous Christmas have reached out to volunteer, which is so lovely for our team. They are such valued members of the volunteer team too as they have very specific lived experience of not only being on a CAMHS ward over Christmas but also receiving gifts from us. They have lots of great ideas particularly of activities to provide and gifts to give - the paper chain project was their idea!

Lots of our volunteers have some kind of lived experience of mental ill health, either themselves or through friends/family, which is often the reason why they choose to volunteer.

Which mental illness have you found that the children and young people you are gifting are struggling with the most?

We actually never find out the specific illnesses the young people we send gifts to are struggling with as it doesn’t make a difference to the gifts we give them. In fact, we don’t have any identifying information about them at all! We of course know if we’re sending to a specific ward, such as an eating disorder ward or a ward that specifically works with young people that also have learning disabilities who are in crisis with their mental health. In these cases, we try to be extra selective about what we do or don’t send, so that the gifts are appropriate.  

What do you think can make Christmas so difficult for some people to cope with their mental health?

I think there's many reasons that Christmas might be an especially challenging time for some young people who may already be struggling with their mental health. There’s added pressure around Christmas to appear ‘festive’ and ‘happy’ and it can be really hard to be surrounded by that if you’re not feeling that within yourself. There’s also lots of financial pressure put on families around Christmas and pressure to spend a lot of additional time with the people you live with, which might be difficult for some young people. For children still in education, it can be challenging to lose some of their normal routine of going into school. And for lots of people, Christmas can just make them feel extra lonely as they can feel like everyone has support but them. 

Has there been any particular children and young people who have really stuck out in your memory as appreciating your work?

We don’t have direct contact with the young people we donate to unless they want to send us a message on social media or a card. However, the young people that really stick with us are the ones who we do hear from afterward or the young people who run a fundraising event to raise money for other children and young people who might be having a hard time. We really love hearing that our gifts and goodies have made a positive impact. A young person recently told us:

“The gift made me smile so much. I’d had such a bad day and it was an utterly terrifying time in my life - I was about to turn 18 and had never felt more alone. It was so weird but lovely to think that people who didn’t know me cared enough to make me and my friends feel special and connected. You really do such an amazing job. You’re so kind, thank you.”

Hearing things like this makes all the work that organising the gifts takes worthwhile.

Having said that, our whole team and everyone who donates is thinking of every child and young person who will be spending the Christmas period in hospital due to their mental health, which is exactly why we do what we do – we want them to know that we’re thinking of them and that lots and lots of people are holding them in their hearts.

Are there any gifts you’ve given through the charity that you will never forget?

Some of the really important gifts we give are for children and young people whose only gift might be through Christmas for CAMHS. If the staff identify they have a young person under this category we make sure to send an additional gift. These might be young people who live in care or young refugees or asylum seekers who might be separated from their loved ones. We can’t tell you what we’re sending this year (we wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise!) but last year we sent items such as wearable blankets, squishmallows, make up, specialist art equipment and games.

What one bit of advice would you like to give to any young people reading this blog post?

We don’t give advice as a charity but, on a personal level, I’d like to remind young people that, if they’re not feeling well, to seek out support however they feel comfortable to. This could be by talking to a trusted adult or GP, or there are some fantastic charities who directly support young people with their mental health, such as Shout, Papyrus and YoungMinds - both Shout and Papyrus can be contacted by young people in crisis. 

We want every young person to know and to remember that there are people caring about you all year round, including this Christmas. And if you are struggling this Christmas, we send you gentle care and hope things ease up soon.

Thank you all so much, I know everyone with I’m NOT Disordered wish you all have the bestest Christmas – you’ve certainly earned it for all of the amazing work you do!

To donate to Christmas for CAMHS:

Making Christmas Magic For Young People in CAMHS Units (2023) - JustGiving

For the rest of Christmas for CAMHS links:

Christmas For CAMHS | Twitter, Facebook | Linktree

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