Stress, anxiety and depression

Depression in children and teenagers

Depression doesn't just affect adults. Children and teenagers can get depressed too.

Some studies show that almost one in four young people will experience depression before they are 19 years old.

It's important to get help early if you think your child may be depressed. The longer it goes on, the more likely it is to disrupt your child's life and turn into a long-term problem.

Signs of depression in children

Symptoms of depression in children often include:

  • sadness, or a low mood that doesn't go away
  • being irritable or grumpy all the time
  • not being interested in things they used to enjoy
  • feeling tired and exhausted a lot of the time

Your child may also:

  • have trouble sleeping or sleep more than usual
  • not be able to concentrate
  • interact less with friends and family
  • be indecisive
  • not have much confidence
  • eat less than usual or overeat
  • have big changes in weight
  • seem unable to relax or be more lethargic than usual
  • talk about feeling guilty or worthless
  • feel empty or unable to feel emotions (numb)
  • have thoughts about suicide or self-harming
  • actually self-harm, for example, cutting their skin or taking on overdose

Some children have problems with anxiety as well as depression. Some also have physical symptoms, such as headaches and stomach aches.

Problems at school can be a sign of depression in children and teenagers and so can problem behaviour, especially in boys.

Older children who are depressed may misuse drugs or alcohol.

Why is my child depressed?

Things that increase the risk of depression in children include:

  • family difficulties
  • bullying
  • physical, emotional or sexual abuse
  • a family history of depression or other mental health problems

Sometimes depression is triggered by one difficult event, such as parents separating, a bereavement or problems with school or other children.

Often it's caused by a mixture of things. For example, your child may have inherited a tendency to depression and also have experienced some difficult life events.

If you think your child is depressed

If you think your child may be depressed, it's important to talk to them. Try to find out what's troubling them and how they are feeling.

See some tips on talking to younger children and talking to teenagers.

Whatever is causing the problem, take it seriously. It may not seem a big deal to you, but it could be a major problem for your child.

If your child doesn't want to talk to you, let them know that you are concerned about them and that you're there if they need you.

Encourage them to talk to someone else they trust, such as another family member, a friend or someone at school.

It may be helpful for you to talk to other people who know your child, including their other parent.

You could also contact their school to see if they have any concerns.

When to get medical help

If you think your child is depressed, make an appointment with them to see your GP.

If necessary they can refer your child to their local child and adolescent mental health service (CAMHS) for specialist help.

See more about CAMHS.

If you are worried about any aspect of your child's mental health, you can call the charity YoungMinds' free parents' helpline on 0808 802 5544 for advice.

The YoungMinds website also has mental health support and advice for your child.

Moodzone: Low mood and depression

Media last reviewed: 02/03/2015

Next review due: 02/03/2018

Page last reviewed: 11/04/2017

Next review due: 11/04/2020

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