Depression does not only affect adults. Children and teenagers can get depressed too.
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 does not 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
- physical, emotional or sexual abuse
- a family history of depression or other mental health problems
Sometimes depression is triggered by 1 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 get depression and also 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.
Whatever is causing the problem, take it seriously. It may not seem like a big deal to you, but it could be a major problem for your child.
If your child does not 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 ask if the staff have any concerns.
When to get medical help
If you think your child is depressed, make an appointment with them to see a GP.
If necessary, the GP can refer your child to a local children and young people's mental health service (CYPMHS) for specialist help.
Find out more about CYPMHS.
If you are worried about any aspect of your child's mental health, you can call the charity YoungMinds' free parents' helpline for advice on 0808 802 5544 from Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 4pm.
The YoungMinds website also has mental health support and advice for your child.
Page last reviewed: 2 April 2020
Next review due: 2 April 2023