A team of volunteer Christmas elves has gathered together online to ensure that young people admitted to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) receive a gift for Christmas

It’s no secret that Christmas is a time of giving - particularly giving Christmas joy to children. Yet, while many members of the public and corporate donors give Christmas gifts to children’s hospitals or children’s wards in general hospitals, CAMHS units, which are often based away from other services, are frequently forgotten.

Children are admitted to CAMHS units to receive support and treatment for mental health issues, such as depression or eating disorders like anorexia. There are no official figures for how many children will spend the festive season in CAMHS units across the UK.

An inspirational team of volunteers, Christmas For CAMHS, has set about to bring joy to these children who are severely struggling with their mental health. They hope to inspire the public to donate gifts for the UK’s forgotten hospitalised children.

The movement was galvanised by Ro Bevan, who saw the disparity in the way CAMHS units were treated compared to other NHS services.

“Five years ago I worked in a children's hospital at Christmas time and there were many presents donated, mostly from corporate donors. There were so many presents that there was enough leftover for patients’ birthdays until June of the following year.

“A year later, I was working in child and adolescent mental health. We had no presents donated. Our patients had one present each, chosen by the therapy team, paid for out of the ward's budget - saved from the NHS budget that is meant to cover therapeutic activities, and other expenses.

“I posted about the inequality on Facebook and before I knew it, my post had gone viral with 1,032 shares and so many supportive comments. It inspired me to start a group the following year and together we have raised over £1,000 to help children who would otherwise be forgotten by the generous public,” Ro said.

“We don’t know whether this disparity is because people just don’t know that there are children in mental health hospitals, or whether it’s indicative of the stigma that society attaches to mental health issues. Regardless, we’re hoping to raise awareness and address the balance. Although this project started with a simple Facebook post, it has already gone further than I ever could’ve imagined possible and reaching units across the UK which is a dream come true.

“Some children in mental health units have a difficult family situation, and some are ‘sectioned’ under the Mental Health Act, often many miles away from home due to a shortage of beds for young people with mental health problems. With the huge increase in mental health issues in young people, we’re keen to raise awareness and help young people feel supported.”

Support for the cause continues to grow each year. In 2016, 310 presents were donated to 27 units across Great Britain. A year later, the group raised £2,334 and sent 389 gifts to children in 40 wards across 33 Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services across the UK, from Plymouth to Dundee and Belfast. In 2018, the volunteers surpassed their previous total, donating 556 presents to 43 units in 2018 - equating to a value of £3,296 raised in 2018 alone.

Staff at these services were delighted by the group’s work. Units said:

“Fantastic - mental health services are often overlooked and this was greatly appreciated.”

“Our young people really appreciated the gesture and the gifts they received.”

What makes a great gift for a CAMHS unit?

If you feel inspired to donate a gift to a child in a CAMHS unit this Christmas, there are some great gift ideas below. For more information about how to make your donation, visit the Christmas for CAMHS website.

  • Soft-backed writing notebooks, journals or diaries (without metal spirals)
  • Pens (without removal metal components such as springs), pencils and pencil cases
  • Colouring books, including colouring-in for mindfulness and adult dot-to-dot books
  • Reading books
  • Card games
  • Construction kits such as Lego
  • Jigsaws
  • Computer games
  • DVDs (age-appropriate)
  • Board games
  • Origami kits
  • Paints
  • Craft paper
  • Sticker books
  • Scrapbooks
  • Memory boxes
  • Teddy bears
  • Beauty products such as nail varnish, nail art kits, hand creams
  • Shower gels and other shower products (no aerosols)

Or, if you would like to donate a monetary contribution, you can do so at the charity’s Virgin Money Giving page.