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Depression in children and teenagers

Almost 1 in 4 young people may experience depression before they are 19. Get help early if you think your child may be depressed.

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

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

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 showing interest 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
  • have thoughts about suicide or self-harming
  • self-harm, for example, cutting their skin or taking an 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. Problem behaviour, especially in boys, can also be a sign.

Older children who are depressed may misuse drugs or alcohol.

Related topics

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 experiencing depression. They may 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.

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 with them to see a GP.

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

Related topics

How to help someone with depression

Supports for young people

Page last reviewed: 23/09/2018
Next review due: 23/09/2021

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