Supporting Your Child With Low Mood and Depression
If you're worried that your child is feeling low or struggling with depression, here’s our advice on what you can do and where you can find support.
Going through different emotions is part of life. We all feel sad or low sometimes, and this can be a natural and appropriate response to what’s happening around us. Often, the passing of time and support from people we’re close to can help things feel better again.
When a young person is feeling depressed, sadness and low feelings do not change or go away with time. These feelings can become overwhelming and stop them from doing or enjoying things they normally would.
Knowing that your child is experiencing this can be incredibly worrying or distressing as a parent. Remember that lots of young people go through depression, it’s possible for your child to come out the other side and feel okay again, and there are places where you and your child can find support.
What are the symptoms of depression?
While every young person is different and will express their feelings differently, your child may be feeling depressed if they are:
- withdrawing, or avoiding friends or social situations
- finding it hard to concentrate, or losing interest in schoolwork
- not wanting to do things they previously enjoyed
- feeling irritable or angry
- feeling tearful, miserable, lonely or hopeless
- feeling empty or numb
- being very self-critical
- sleeping more or less than normal
- eating more or less than normal
- feeling tired or not having any energy
- wanting to self-harm
How can I help my child?
- Try to open up a conversation about what’s going on. You might start by letting them know that you’ve noticed they don’t seem very happy at the moment, voicing your concerns in a caring and non-judgmental way. You can find more tips on starting a conversation with your child here.
- Listen and provide emotional support. Try not to ask too many questions, come up with quick solutions or gloss over their sadness. Empathise with how they’re feeling – letting them know they can talk to you as often and for as long as they need to.
- Try again another day if they don’t want to talk. Finding it difficult to talk or reach out is often a part of feeling low or depressed – and it can be especially difficult for young people to talk about these kinds of feelings. Let them know you’re there when they’re ready to talk.
- Think together about whether there’s anything in particular that’s making them feel this way. This could include a problem with a friendship or family relationship, feeling bullied or left-out at school, feeling overwhelmed by school work, struggling with a change such as divorce or separation in the family, or a combination of things. Are there changes that could be made at home or school that would make things easier?
- If they don’t feel able to talk to you, encourage them to speak to someone else – while reassuring them that you’ll still be there. Let them know about the phone, webchat, email and text support they can access from the services listed at the end of this guide.
- Support them to keep routines, activities and connections with other people going as much as possible. Make opportunities for seeing friends and family, and encourage them to do the things they enjoy – whether that’s exercising, listening to music, doing something creative like colouring or drawing, watching a favourite film, reading a favourite book or going for a walk with you.
- Help them to do the daily things that support our wellbeing. This includes getting up at a regular time, eating regular meals, doing exercise, drinking water, spending quality time with loved ones and getting enough sleep.
- Reassure them. Let them know you love them, these feelings won’t last forever, and that you can find support to help things feel better.
- Don’t ignore worrying signs, hoping they’ll go away. Trust your gut feeling – you know when something’s just not right.
- Seek professional help if you’re worried about your child’s mental health. Some children and young people will need professional and specialist help to feel better. They may benefit from a specific diagnosis or a treatment such as talking therapy. You can find more information about this below.
Young people's advice for others going through this:
- Speak to your doctor or a trusted adult about how you’re feeling.
- Don't be afraid to cry, especially if you're male - it helps to release emotions and you'll feel better afterwards.
- I’ve found that identifying behaviours that aren’t beneficial to you, like endlessly scrolling through Instagram before bed and sleeping late, can be really helpful. It’s hard to force good habits, but it can do wonders for your overall mood.
- Try to keep going outside, even if it’s just a short walk, it can really help your mood to lift.
- Find a distraction technique - we all have different ones; it could be jogging, music, art, reading etc.
- Realise that how you’re feeling won’t last forever and there’s always something to look forward to.
Where can I find professional help?
GP and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS)
Speaking to your GP is usually the first step to accessing mental health services. Together you can discuss whether referral to CAMHS, an assessment by a mental health specialist or referral for another kind of support is needed. You can speak to your GP with or without your child.
The type of support or treatment offered will depend on your child’s age and what they are experiencing. The most common type of talking therapy offered by the NHS is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which can help your child to understand their thoughts and feelings and to find practical strategies to help them cope.
Counselling and therapy
Counsellors and therapists can provide emotional support and help your child to make sense of, and find ways to cope with, their feelings.
You can find local counselling and therapy services by:
- Speaking to your GP
- Asking your child’s school whether they provide a free or subsidised counselling service, and whether they can make a referral for your child
- Searching online for free counselling services in your area, and/or using the Youth Access directory to do this
- Finding a private counsellor, therapist or family therapist using the directories listed in our guide
Your child’s school
If your child is struggling, it can help to be open with the school about what’s going on and what support your child needs. Depending on their age, it may be important to make sure your child feels some control over the information that’s shared about them – for example by discussing with them who they would feel comfortable for you to speak to.
Alongside counselling, schools can often provide support from the pastoral team, a member of staff who your child can chat to when they need to, mentoring, peer buddying and clubs and activities.
If your child is struggling to go to school, you can also discuss whether a more flexible timetable or other strategies would help.
Depression and suicidal thoughts
Some young people who are depressed can think about, speak of or attempt suicide. If you are worried about this, seek urgent professional advice from your GP or the mental health professionals supporting your child. If needed, you can ask for an on-the-day appointment with your GP, and you can speak to them yourself if your child does not want to go to an appointment.
If your child experiences a mental health crisis, seek urgent professional support:
- If you are worried that your child is at immediate risk of harm or cannot keep themselves safe, or they have already been injured, call 999 or take them to A&E.
- If the situation is not life threatening and a health professional such as a GP has already given you a crisis number to call in this situation, call this number.
- Or, if your child is already under the care of CAMHS or another mental health team and they have a crisis plan that states who to contact in this situation, follow this plan.
- You can also call your local NHS mental health helpline or 111 anytime for urgent advice about what to do next.
If you need advice around supporting and responding to your child when they’re experiencing suicidal thoughts, you can find this on the Prevention of Young Suicide (PAPYRUS) website. You can also contact their HOPELINE to speak to an advisor over phone or email.
More information and advice
- Advice and strategies to help you support your child with anxiety.
- Tips for starting a conversation with your child about what's going on.
- Guide to finding a counsellor or therapist for your child.
- If you have a teenager, they might find it helpful to hear about other young people's experiences of depression.
If you’re under 19 you can confidentially call, chat online or email about any problem big or small.
Can provide a BSL interpreter if you are deaf or hearing-impaired.
Hosts online message boards where you can share your experiences, have fun and get support from other young people in similar situations.
Phone: 0800 1111
Opening times: 9am - midnight, 365 days a year
YoungMinds Crisis Messenger
Provides free, 24/7 text support for young people across the UK experiencing a mental health crisis.
All texts are answered by trained volunteers, with support from experienced clinical supervisors.
Texts are free from EE, O2, Vodafone, 3, Virgin Mobile, BT Mobile, GiffGaff, Tesco Mobile and Telecom Plus.
Texts can be anonymous, but if the volunteer believes you are at immediate risk of harm, they may share your details with people who can provide support.
Text: YM to 85258
Opening times: 24/7
Offers confidential advice and support for young people struggling with suicidal thoughts.
Its helpline service - HOPELINEUK - is available to anybody under the age of 35 experiencing suicidal thoughts, or anybody concerned that a young person could be thinking of suicide.
Phone: 0800 068 4141
Email: [email protected]
Opening times: 9am – midnight, 365 days a year
NHS urgent mental health helpline (England only)
Offers mental health support and advice, help to speak to a mental health professional, and can arrange an assessment to help decide on the best course of care.
Opening times: 24/7