Signs of depression or anxiety in children
Knowing how to talk to your child about their mental health, or recognising the signs that they might be struggling, can be really hard. Signs of depression or anxiety in children can sometimes look like normal behaviour, particularly in teenagers who can keep their feelings to themselves.
It’s also natural for children or young people to feel stressed or anxious about things like exams or moving to a new school. But while these experiences can be very difficult, they’re different from longer term depression or anxiety, which affect how a child or young person feels every day.
It can help to think about what’s normal for your child and if you’ve noticed signs that they’ve been behaving differently recently.
Signs of depression in children and teenagers can include:
- persistent low-mood or lack of motivation
- not enjoying things they used to like doing
- becoming withdrawn and spending less time with friends and family
- experiencing low self-esteem or feeling like they are ‘worthless’
- feeling tearful or upset regularly
- changes in eating or sleeping habits.
Signs of anxiety in children and teenagers can include:
- becoming socially withdrawn and avoiding spending times with friends or family
- feeling nervous or ‘on edge’ a lot of the time
- suffering panic attacks
- feeling tearful, upset or angry
- trouble sleeping and changes in eating habits.
Helping a child with anxiety or depression
Realising that your child may be struggling with their mental health and experiencing anxiety or depression can be hard to accept. Sometimes parents can feel like it’s their fault or want to know why their child is struggling with a mental health problem. This is completely understandable, but the most important thing you can do is to reassure your child and not judge them for how they’re feeling.
Ways to help a child who’s struggling include:
- letting them know you’re there for them and are on their side
- try talking to them over text or on the phone if they don’t feel able to talk in person
- being patient and staying calm and approachable, even if their behaviour upsets you
- recognising that their feelings are valid and letting them know it’s okay for them to be honest about what it’s like for them to feel this way
- thinking of healthy ways to cope you could do together, like yoga, breathing exercises or mindfulness
- encouraging them to talk to their GP, someone at their school or Childline. Especially if they’re finding it hard to talk at home.
- take care of yourself and get support if you need to. Try not to blame yourself for what’s happening and to stay hopeful about your child’s recovery.
"Childline saved my life so many times."
Sioned had a chaotic home life and looked after her mother who had depression.
Growing up she struggled with her mental health and tried to take her own life. Childline were a safe place for her to turn throughout her teenage years, and helped her to feel someone cared.
If you're worried a child is feeling suicidal
While not every child with depression or anxiety will feel suicidal, sometimes mental health problems can feel overwhelming for children and young people. If a young person talks about wanting to hurt or harm themselves, or expresses suicidal feelings, they should always be taken seriously.
Signs that a child or young person may be having suicidal feelings or thinking about suicide, include:
- becoming more depressed or withdrawn, spending a lot of time by themselves
- an increase in dangerous behaviours like taking drugs or drinking alcohol
- becoming obsessed with ideas of suicide, death or dying, which could include internet searches
- saying things like “I’d be better off dead”, “No one would miss me”, “I just wish I wasn’t here anymore”.
If you’re worried, it’s important to get help right away. Our trained counsellors can provide help or advice over the phone on 0808 800 5000. Children and young people under 19 can also get support from Childline online or over the phone, 24 hours a day.
However a child or young person is feeling, remind them that they’re not alone and there are ways to cope and feel better. Childline also has online advice and tips for young people on coping with suicidal feelings that they can use right now.
45% of all Childline counselling sessions were related to emotional health and wellbeing, including self-harm and suicidal thoughts and feelings.
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Getting mental health support for your child
Supporting a child with a mental health problem like depression or anxiety can be really hard and it’s important for a young person to speak to their GP about professional help if they’re struggling. This should be the first step you take if you’re worried a child may have a mental health problem. Sometimes a GP will prescribe medication to help a child or young person with depression or anxiety symptoms.
Your child may want to speak to their GP on their own or they may want you to be there with them. It’s important for you to support their decision if they’d prefer to talk to a GP alone, as sometimes young people can find it easier to talk about their feelings with someone they don’t know.
Childline is a free and confidential service for young people under 18. Children can talk to a trained counsellor over the phone, online via 1-2-1 chat or via email about anything that’s worrying them, 24 hours a day. Many young people find it easier to be honest about their mental health with someone they don’t know.
Childline also have lots of information and advice for young people on how to cope with mental health problems.
Their website also offers advice and coping techniques for:
It can also help to speak to someone at your child’s school, like their teacher. Your school should be able to provide someone who your child can speak to regularly about their mental health, such as a school counsellor. Ask your child if there’s a teacher at their school they might feel comfortable speaking to.
If your child has been feeling unhappy or anxious for a long time, or is showing signs of self-harm or suicidal thoughts, it’s important to consider professional help so that they can get the support they need.
Child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) is a free NHS service for children and young people under 18. CAMHS can help young people who are struggling with serious mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, self-harm, panic attacks or eating problems.
Referral is usually done through your child’s GP and unfortunately it can take up to several weeks for an initial assessment. Social services can also refer young people to CAMHS if they’re already supporting your child.
Sometimes parents come to the first appointment with their child, or may be offered family therapy but often your child will see a CAMHS worker on their own. This is important as it can help children to be more honest about how they’re feeling.
Help us make a difference
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More advice and support for parents
Advice for parents on how to recognise the signs of self-harm and support a child who's been hurting themselves.