Reading time: 4 minutes
Suitable for: Families of secondary-age children. Families with older primary-age children may find this useful too.
Lots of parents worry about child depression. Many children have periods of sadness in their lives and they often naturally overcome them with your support. But how can you tell if it’s more serious and your child is depressed?
Causes of child depression
Many children struggle with their mental health, and the numbers are increasing. Post COVID-19, we’re likely to see the numbers of children needing mental health support rise even more.
There are a wide range of reasons for child depression, including:
- Problems with their physical health, particularly with chronic conditions
- A family history of depression, especially over several generations
- An imbalance in their brain chemistry
- Stressful life events
- Chaotic family life
- Financial instability
- Health of a family member
- Social isolation
Many children may have these experiences and don’t become depressed. There is no way to know for certain which children will be affected. But, if you’re worried your child may be depressed, it’s important to take action as soon as possible.
Signs your child may be depressed
It’s normal to go through short periods of sadness as a child, particularly because of a specific event like bereavement, changing school, or friendship difficulties. However, it’s important to look out for signs that your child may be depressed.
Signs of depression include:
- Showing less interest in their usual hobbies: They might give up clubs they previously enjoyed and not just because they’ve grown out of them or moved onto a new interest.
- Stopping socialising: You may notice they are spending more time alone and making excuses not to see friends or family.
- Lack of energy: They may seem to sleep all the time, seem too tired to do normal everyday things, and take a long time to do tasks.
- Decline in school: Dropping test scores, lack of interest in school work, and concerns from school when they were previously fine are all signs something’s wrong.
- Low self-esteem: Your child thinks they are worthless.
- Feeling guilty: They might blame themselves when things go wrong, even when it’s completely out of their control.
- Feeling misunderstood: They feel no one understands them.
- Sudden aggression and impulsivity: You may find them damaging things, vandalism, or angry outbursts.
- Self harm: They may talk about or research self harming online, use clothing to cover more of their body than usual, or obviously start self-harming.
- Suicidal thoughts or actions: Your child may talk about things being better if they weren’t around.
These signs of depression are not a checklist to work through and, when taken in isolation, may not mean that your child is depressed. But, if you have a gut feeling that something is wrong, it’s important you seek help immediately.
How to help your depressed child
- Speak to your doctor about your concerns. They can refer you on for appropriate support.
- Talk to your child’s school. Many schools have staff specially trained to support children with their mental health and wellbeing.
- Keep a record of your concerns, and any triggers, moods or symptoms you’ve noticed.
- Be reassuring and positive. You may be feeling anxious, but try not to show this to your child.
- Be open to them talking to you without passing judgement or trying to fix problems for them. Often what they most want is a listening ear.
- Help your child identify people they can talk to. It may be a family member, trusted adult friend, or a designated person at school.
If you’re worried that your child may be depressed, don’t ignore it or hope it will sort itself out.
Talk to your child about your worries in a supportive and loving way and reach out for support from professional organisations. You don’t need to cope with depression alone.
Online self-guided courses
We have a range of helpful online courses if you’re worried your child may be self-harming or feeling suicidal:
- Understand why people self harm: Self Harm Course
- If you’re worried your teenager may be self harming: Teenage Self Harm Course
- For support if your child feels suicidal: Suicidal Thoughts Course
- If you need support for your own mental wellbeing: Mental Health Awareness Course
Organisations who can help
- For further information about depression in children, visit the NHS website
- Local NHS Urgent Mental Health Support Helpline (England only)
Charities supporting children’s mental health
- ChildLine provide a free helpline and 1:1 online chats for children and young people
- On My Mind, by the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families, provides advice to help young people make informed decisions about their mental health
- Mind is a charity that provides mental health support, including information for young people aged 11-18
- Stem 4 supports teenage mental health with a wide range of information for teenagers and their parents
- Young Minds are a young people’s mental health charity with a wide range of resources designed for parents