Mental health and suicidal thoughts

Get advice on helping a child if they’re struggling with their mental health.

Mental illness and suicidal thoughts can affect anyone, of any age, of any background, at any time. Like with physical illnesses, people don’t choose to have a mental health problem. And they need the appropriate care to get better.

Mental illness and suicidal thoughts are common issues for young people. 

It can be difficult to know if a child is suffering as they often keep it to themselves. But we’re here to help you spot the signs and know how to support them.

If you think a child is in immediate danger

Don't delay – call the police on 999, or call us on 0808 800 5000, straight away.

Over 2 in 5 Childline counselling sessions were about mental or emotional health and wellbeing issues in 2017/18

Explanation: 3 of the top 10 main concerns discussed in Childline counselling sessions related to mental health and wellbeing.

These were:

  • mental or emotional health
  • self-harm
  • suicidal thoughts or feelings.

These 3 issues were the main focus of 109,136 counselling sessions - 45% of the 241,523 Childline counselling sessions in which children and young people talked about their own concerns in 2018/19.

The most common reason for Childline counselling sessions in 2018/19 was mental and emotional health

Explanation: Childline provided 250,281 counselling sessions to children and young people in 2018/19. In 241,523 of these counselling sessions they talked about their own concerns and in 8,758 they contacted us with concerns they had for another child or young person (third party concerns). The most common concern was mental/emotional health.

Depression and anxiety

Everyone feels down sometimes, but depression is more than this. People with depression feel sad for long stretches at a time – and this can be experienced by young people as well as adults.

This is similar with anxiety. Everyone feels nervous from time to time. But some people find it harder to control anxiety.

Children and young people can find it especially difficult to express their feelings and open up to others. If they’re suffering from depression they may feel like there is no hope and find it difficult to imagine ever being happy again. Or, if they’re highly anxious they may be even more worried about talking to someone about how they feel.

Suicidal thoughts 

Some children may feel like there is no hope or might think about ending their life.

Whilst thinking about suicide is relatively common, very few young people will actually attempt to take their own lives. However even having suicidal thoughts clearly shows someone is unhappy and needs help and support.

It can be difficult to understand what causes suicidal feelings but they’re often triggered by upsetting experiences such as:

    • living with mental illness
    • experiencing abuse
    • being bullied
    • bereavement after losing a loved one
    • being forced to marry
    • having very low self-worth

Signs and symptoms of mental health issues

All children are different but some of the common signs of mental health problems in children include:

    • becoming withdrawn from friends and family
    • persistent low mood and unhappiness
    • tearfulness and irritability
    • worries that stop them from carrying out day to day tasks
    • sudden outbursts of anger directed at themselves or others
    • loss of interest in activities that they used to enjoy
    • problems eating or sleeping.

The effect on others 

If your child is struggling with their mental health or having suicidal thoughts, it's bound to have a big effect on you and the whole family.

Other children may also pick up that something's wrong, so make sure that you give them all the support they need.

Discovering your child is feeling suicidal can feel quite overwhelming.

So make sure that you also get all the support you need from friends and family and maybe professional counsellors.

Girl in bed feeling down

Worried about a child?

Contact our trained helpline counsellors for help, advice and support.

0808 800 5000

Report a concern

How to support a child

It’s important a child or young person gets the right help for mental health problems, suicidal thoughts or self-harm.

There’s lots you can do to help improve a child’s wellbeing but sometimes you may need to ask professionals for help and support.

It’s a really difficult situation, but there are plenty of people who can help. 

Your first step should be visiting the family doctor who can help in a few different ways. They can listen – if your child's willing to talk to them. If they have been self-harming the doctor will be able to treat injuries and give medical advice.

They could also refer your child for specialist help if they need it. This could be a therapist who will work with your child to discuss their thoughts and feelings and how this is affecting their behaviour.

Speak to the person in charge of child protection for the school or a teacher your child is particularly close to.

Teachers are becoming increasingly aware of child self-harm and mental illness. The school will almost certainly have experience of helping pupils and their families.

The school should be able to provide a named member of staff who your child can go to if they’re struggling with low mood or wanting to harm themselves. This might be a counsellor, a mentor or a nurse, for example.

Your child is at school for a large part of the day so having staff aware of the concerns and keeping an eye on them during this time can be reassuring.

Childline has trained counsellors who can help your child to talk about the emotions they may be feeling. It’s a safe space for children to think about ways to improve their situation. They often find it easier to open up to someone they don’t know.

Childline talks to under 19’s online or over the telephone on 0800 1111. Calls are free and do not show up on itemised phone bills.

Childline’s website offers advice on many topics that affect young people such as mental illness, depression, self-harm, suicidal thoughts and coping with exam stress.

Who else can help?

YoungMinds offer advice and support to adults, parents and professionals who are worried about the emotional welfare and behaviour of a child or young person.

YoungMinds also help children to improve their mental health and emotional wellbeing. So you could show their website to a young person if they’re struggling with mental health problems.

SelfharmUK support young people who self-harm. They also give advice to their parents, siblings and friends.

Family Lives speak to anyone in a care-giving role who wants advice on any issues around parenting, such as self-harm and depression and the effect on other family members.

Papyrus speak for free to young people under 35 that are feeling suicidal as well as anyone (like family, friends or professionals) concerned about a young person at risk of suicide.

The Samaritans offer support and advice to anyone experiencing feelings of distress, despair or considering suicide and are available 24 hours a day.