Supporting Your Child With Depression
If you're worried that your child is struggling with depression, here is our advice and information on where you can get support.
How can I help my child?
Coping with different emotions is part of everyone’s life. We all feel happy and sad at different times. Feeling sad can be a natural and appropriate response to what is happening in our lives. Mostly, the passing of time, life changes and the support of those around us help these feelings go away.
Depression is when sadness and low feelings do not go away; when they overwhelm a person and stop them from doing the things they normally do. If you notice this in your child there are ways you can help.
These are things that can really make a difference:
- Recognising whether a young person is simply “being a hormonal, moody teenager” or suffering from depression could usefully be described as the difference between bouts of surly/grumpy behaviour, and unremitting, deep unhappiness over time, with a significant lack of interest in anything at all.
- Don’t ignore worrying symptoms, hoping they’ll go away. Talk to your child about the signs of depression that you’ve noticed and voice your concerns in a caring and non-judgmental way. Let them know you will willingly hear about what they are going through.
- Trust your gut feeling – you know when something’s just not right.
- Avoid asking too many questions, trying to give solutions, dismissing them or glossing over their pain and sadness. Just listen and empathise.
- Try again another day if they don’t want to talk about it. Expressing feelings is hard enough at the best of time for teens, when they are depressed it’s even more difficult. Depression is particularly tough for teens.
- If not you, then someone else. Encourage them to talk to a school counsellor or trusted teacher, GP, advice services which offer helplines, webchat, emails, text and forums (see where can I get help section below).
- Combat isolation by helping to keep connections and communications going. Make opportunities for seeing friends, family; make time to chat regularly; do stuff such as sports, activities, silly and fun things; make music; walk a dog; try to get them involved and interested in something. Take a look at our Take20 page for ideas.
- Ensure as much of the following as possible: regular physical activity, good nutrition and regular sleep (teens need 9-10 hours per night).
- Seek professional help if nothing is helping and the symptoms are worsening.
- Involve your child in treatment choices. Contact maybe three different counsellors to get a feel for different approaches and types of people. If your child doesn’t ‘connect’ with a therapist, for example, find another one.
- Be open with younger sisters and brothers, who will know ‘something’ is wrong and also need your time and attention. Asking how they feel and listening to them too is very important.
- Look after yourself. Find support for you, be honest about your own feelings. Don’t blame yourself.
- Be hopeful.
Warning signs to look out for
Teenagers are often moody and uncommunicative, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are depressed. These behaviours can just be part of typical adolescence, related to hormonal changes, brain development and trying to find their place in the world as they grow from children into young people. Some teenagers, however, get stuck in the turmoil or overwhelmed by it. They can find the changes they are going through just too much to cope with. They may withdraw completely, or seek relief by harming themselves or taking risks and refusing to toe the line.
An added problem is that teenagers often refuse to talk at home about difficult issues and this can be really worrying for parents.
Depression can be linked to other problems such as anxiety, eating disorders or learning disabilities.
If your teenager is displaying lots of the signs above and it has been going on for a while, it is best to seek help. Once you suspect there is a problem, talk to others who know your child – family, friends, school – to see if they have also noticed changes and signs. Go to your GP.
Suicide warning signs
Young people who are clinically depressed, suffering a psychological disorder or abusing alcohol/ drugs can think about, speak of, or attempt suicide. Suicidal thoughts and tendencies should always be taken seriously.
Some young people are more at risk of suicide than others. They may include those who:
- have an underlying mental health disorder
- are being bullied
- have a family history of suicide or have experienced the suicide of a friend or relative
- are having relationship problems
- who are uncertain about gender or sexual orientation
- have experience of abuse, disadvantage, discrimination, alcohol and drug use.
Here are some warning signs to look out for:
- an obsession with suicide, death or dying
- saying things like: “I wish I was dead”, “I don’t want to wake up tomorrow”, “Everyone would be better off without me.”
- doing internet searches about suicide
- giving away their stuff, often possessions they value
- seeming to say goodbye in messages to friends and/or family
Where can I get help?
- Lists of local services for young people’s mental health and wellbeing.
- Our guide to counselling services for young people and families.
- Offers information about advice and counselling services in the UK for young people aged 12-25 years.
- Confidential advice and support for young people who feel suicidal.
- HOPELineUK: 0800 068 41 41
- Text: 07786 209 697
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Straight talk about mental health medication
- Offers support to young men in the UK who are down or in a crisis.
- Helpline: 0800 58 58 58 (Daily 17:00 - 0:00)