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Depression and mental ill-health in children

"At first I thought she was just being a moody teenager, but as the time went on I realised something was wrong. She’s getting counselling now - it’s slow, but I’m hopeful she’ll get out of this."

Warning signs
Not sleeping, mood swings, eating disorders, not caring about their appearance, dropping friends and hobbies, staying in their room, crying, not doing so well at school, finding it hard to work, or being self-critical.

If you think your child is depressed, talk to him/her and find out if there is any way you can help. Be patient and understanding - what may seem like small problems to you can be too much for a young person. Talk to your Doctor and discuss what treatment (such as counselling) may be helpful. You could speak to your child’s school to see if they have noticed any differences in your son or daughter.

What to say

Listen to and talk to your son/daughter. Help and encourage them to get their lives together. Depression can’t just be switched off, it takes time and understanding to overcome it. Try to get them to contact useful organisations they can talk to in private.


Listen to and talk to your teenager. Help and encourage them to get their lives together. Depression can’t just be switched off; it takes time and understanding to overcome it. Try to get them to contact useful organisations they can talk to in private. A supportive and understanding family means your child may feel more able to talk to you about any problems, rather than bottling them up. Chat about their interests, hobbies, friends and schoolwork so they feel you understand the different parts of their lives.

The facts

  • 1 in 25 young people suffer from depression
  • Many things can set off mental ill health
  • Your teenager needs you to listen
  • Get professional help

Dealing with the uncertainties of life

The teenage years are a difficult time and young people have a lot to deal with physically, mentally and emotionally. While every young person feels highs and lows, for some, about four or five in every hundred - this turns into depression.

Young people are more vulnerable and sensitive to what is happening to them and are less experienced at being able to deal with problems and anxieties.

Depression can be started by a number of things, such as: parents divorcing or separating; feeling ignored and unloved; or not being listened to; losing friends; changing school or moving home; worries about their looks, sexuality, health, exams or abuse.

What may seem like small problems or worries to an older person can seem like a much bigger problem to a young person. Boys are more likely to get depressed than girls and suffer from serious mental ill health.

What are the signs?

While young people can sometimes seem unhappy and quiet, you may feel that this is more than just a phase. Signs may include being unable to sleep, eating too much or too little, mood swings, staying in their bedroom all day, or giving up interests and hobbies. Crying, avoiding friends and family, finding it hard to do their schoolwork, or not caring about what they look like are other things to look out for. They may talk about death or have suicidal thoughts.

To escape from their feelings or let them out in the only way they know how young people may start taking drugs or drinking, not going to school, becoming violent or carrying out crimes such as shoplifting.

How to help

If your teenager is suffering from depression they need help. Don’t ignore their worries and take any talk of suicide seriously. You need to listen, try to understand what they are going through and get professional help if you need to. Get them to talk about their worries. If they don't feel they can talk to you, there are a number of help lines they can contact. If you are concerned, help them to see their Doctor or School Nurse. They may want you to come with them or may like to go alone (remember they will still need your support). The Doctor can discuss ways to help, often a referral to a trained therapist or counsellor.

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