Signs of depression or anxiety in children
Knowing 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- becoming withdrawn and spending less time with friends and family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- becoming socially withdrawn and avoiding spending times with friends or family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 depression
Realising 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.
Childline's We All Feel It campaign
We know that some people find it harder to talk about their mental health than others, and this can leave them feeling isolated or alone. Childline is highlighting its support and advice for any young person struggling with their mental health.
If you're worried a child is feeling suicidal
While 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”.
If you're worried, it's important to get help right away. Our trained counsellors can provide help or advice over the phone on 0808 800 5000. Children and young people under 19 can also get support from Childline online or over the phone, 24 hours a day.
However a child or young person is feeling, remind them that they're not alone and there are ways to cope and feel better. Childline also has online advice and tips for young people on coping with suicidal feelings that they can use right now.
Getting mental health support for your child
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.
Childline is a free and confidential service for young people under 18. Children can talk to a trained counsellor over the phone, online via 1-2-1 chat or via email about anything that’s worrying them, 24 hours a day. Many young people find it easier to be honest about their mental health with someone they don’t know.
Childline also have lots of information and advice for young people on how to cope with mental health problems.
Their website also offers advice and coping techniques for:
It can also help to speak to someone at your child’s school, like their teacher. Your school should be able to provide someone who your child can speak to regularly about their mental health, such as a school counsellor. Ask your child if there’s a teacher at their school they might feel comfortable speaking to.
If your child has been feeling unhappy or anxious for a long time, or is showing signs of self-harm or suicidal thoughts, it’s important to consider professional help so that they can get the support they need.
Child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) is a free NHS service for children and young people under 18. CAMHS can help young people who are struggling with serious mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, self-harm, panic attacks or eating problems.
Referral is usually done through your child’s GP and unfortunately it can take up to several weeks for an initial assessment. Social services can also refer young people to CAMHS if they’re already supporting your child.
Sometimes parents come to the first appointment with their child, or may be offered family therapy but often your child will see a CAMHS worker on their own. This is important as it can help children to be more honest about how they’re feeling.
How Childline helps
Childline is a free service for children and young people - here whenever they need support or advice. We've delivered an average of around 17,000 counselling sessions a month since the first national lockdown began.
Childline is here for every child and young person. Whatever problems or dangers they're facing we’re here to listen – 365 days a year.
"I am so immensely grateful that you were there to listen without telling me I am lying, judging me or making me feel worse about myself and that is the amazing thing about these chats, they can save lives."
Girl, aged 14
Children don’t always know who to trust with their worries. Without a safe place to turn, they can put their trust in the wrong person or keep their fears to themselves. Home isn’t a safe place for every child, and the pandemic made even more children feel trapped, lonely, and unsure who to trust.
"I just wanted to say a big thank you to the counsellor I spoke to this morning. I don’t know what I would have done if you had not been there to talk to. You made me feel so much better about myself and gave me hope that maybe I will make it. I am so grateful for everything you have done. I was able to feel like my feelings are valid and that I have worth and a reason to live."
Girl aged 14
Childline gives every child access to free, confidential support whenever they need it. In 2020/21, we delivered 76,000 councilling sessions to children and the young people contacting us for the first time. Childline is always here to listen, whatever their worry.
Childline is here for children and young people wherever and whenever they need us. Feedback from young people has told us:
- Childline helps them feel less alone with their problems
- Childline helps them see their problems from a new perspective
- Talking about problems with Childline helps them open up with other people.
Our Childline staff and over 1,200 volunteer counsellors around the UK delivered over 200,000 counselling sessions in 2020/21. Hear from Omar, one of our counsellors, about his experience helping children during the pandemic.
"The volunteers who contribute are exceptional people… [We] are committed to the service continuing because we want to guarantee it is there for children and young people. We realise there is a real need and we are there for them."
Gwenno Huws, Childline volunteer counsellor (Prestatyn)
Children and young people also turn to our website for support online. Our website puts young people first – with games, tools, advice and support about anything from making friends to child abuse. Young people also turn to Childline’s message boards to share their worries with other young people in a safe online space, with over 58,000 posts submitted in total in 2020/21.
"I have been seeing a counsellor at school for the last few years which has helped. I only see them once a week so in between I look at the Childline website for tips on managing anger and stress."
Boy, 13, Childline website user
In 2018 we created childline.org.uk/kids specifically for children under-12, to ensure our information is accessible for young people of all ages.
We want to be there for every child who needs us, no matter what their worry or how they choose to contact us. Children and young people sometimes have to wait for a Childline counsellor to be available. We’re always looking to improve our counselling services and make sure we’re there with them while they wait.
One example of this is the creation of Cubie, our chatbot helper that we've developed with our technology partner O2. Cubie asks important opening questions to children and young people while they wait. It also points them to helpful advice, support and games around the site to try in the meantime.
On average, online counselling sessions take over three times as long as over the phone – and make up around three quarters of our sessions.3 By using a chat bot we can help counsellors and young people by providing them with more information before each session.
It costs £4 to answer a child’s call for help. Around 90% of our income is donated - we can only be here with your help.4
You can help give children and young people a voice when no one else is listening.
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3. In 2020/21, the average handling time for an online counselling session was over three times as long as the average for a counselling session by phone. This includes the time taken by the counsellor to record information after the counselling session is finished.
4. In 2019/20 our total income was £117.6 million. Of this total £93.5 million came from donations and legacies and a further £9.0 million came from activities undertaken for the purpose of raising funds (like dinners and balls, auctions and challenge events). This gives a total of £102.5 million from our supporters, or 87% of all income.