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

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  • becoming withdrawn and spending less time with friends and family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.

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.

Helping a child with anxiety or depression

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 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”.