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Helping a child or teenager with depression

Depression does not just affect adults. Children and teenagers can get depressed too.

Almost 1 in 4 young people may experience depression before they are 19 years old.

If you think your child may be depressed, get help early. The longer it goes on, the more likely it is to affect your child's life and become 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 showing interest in things they used to enjoy
  • feeling tired and exhausted a lot of the time

Your child may also:

  • not be able to concentrate
  • not have much confidence
  • have trouble sleeping or sleep more than usual
  • interact less with friends and family
  • be indecisive
  • eat less than usual or overeat
  • have big changes in weight
  • seem unable to relax or have less energy than usual
  • talk about feeling guilty or worthless
  • feel empty or unable to feel emotions
  • have thoughts about suicide or self-harming

Not all of these symptoms are necessarily signs of depression. Some may be caused by low confidence or anxiety as well as depression.

Some young people may also have physical symptoms that are related to depression, such as headaches and stomach aches.

Problems at school can be a sign of depression in children and teenagers. Problem behaviour outside of school, especially in boys, can also be a sign.

Teenagers who are depressed may misuse drugs or alcohol.

Anxiety in young people

Depression risk factors

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. This could be 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 genes which increase the risk of depression. They may also have had 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 a big deal to you, but it could be a major problem for your child.

Your child may 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. This could be 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 for them to see their GP.

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

Helping someone with depression

Getting support

Organisations that provide mental health services for young people

Page last reviewed: 21 November 2022
Next review due: 21 November 2025