Children's mental health
Recognising the signs that a child may be struggling with their mental health can be really hard. We've got advice to help you support children who may be experiencing depression, anxiety, suicidal feelings or self-harm.
Depression, anxiety and mental healthKnowing 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becoming withdrawn and spending less time with friends and family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becoming socially withdrawn and avoiding spending times with friends or family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 depressionRealising 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.
If you're worried a child is feeling suicidalWhile 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”.
Getting mental health support for your childSpeak to their GP 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.