A father comforts his son at the table

Depression and low mood

What is depression?

Going through different emotions is part of life. While it can feel worrying, it’s normal for a young person to have some down days. This can be part of growing up or a natural response to something that’s happening in their life.

If your child or young person is feeling low, they may seem more flat, tearful or irritable. But usually, they'll start to feel better in a few days or week. You may also notice that their mood lifts after a small change in their life. For example, after resolving a fall-out with a friend or getting to the end of a stressful time at school.

When a young person is feeling depressed, low feelings last longer. This can make it difficult to enjoy things they normally would. It can also start to affect everyday activities like school or work. When a young person is experiencing depression, it’s often difficult to feel better without extra support.

Knowing that your child or young person is feeling depressed can be really worrying. Remember that lots of young people go through this, get help and start to feel better. We’re here to help you support them and find the right help when they need it.

While every young person is different, these are some common signs of depression:

  • feeling down, sad or flat
  • feeling numb or empty
  • being more irritable
  • avoiding friends, school or social situations
  • not wanting to do things they used to enjoy
  •  feeling tired or not having any energy
  • finding it hard to concentrate
  • feeling negative about themselves
  • feeling hopeless about the future
  • having physical symptoms like trouble sleeping or a change in their appetite
  • wanting to self-harm
  • experiencing suicidal thoughts

If your child or young person experiences one or two of these things, it does not necessarily mean they’re struggling with depression. But if you’re concerned, it’s important to speak to a professional like a GP.

How can I help my child or young person ?

It can help to start with an ‘I’ phrase like, ‘I’ve noticed you seem kind of down at the moment, can we have a chat about it?’. It can also help to start the conversation while you’re doing an activity, like walking or driving somewhere together. This can take the pressure off and make it easier for them to open-up. You can find more tips on starting a conversation in our guide for parents and carers.

Starting a conversation with your child

Try not to ask too many questions or come up with quick solutions. Focus on listening and showing you can see it from their perspective. Thank them for telling you about it, remembering that they’ve taken a risk in opening-up. Let them know they can talk to you as often and for as long as they need to. Try not take it personally if you’re on the receiving end of anger or frustration sometimes. Being more irritable can be part of feeling low, especially for children and young people.

You can find more tips for making your child or young person feel really listened to in our blog.

How to really listen to your child

Young people often find it difficult to talk to their parents or carers about how they’re feeling. They might not know what to say, feel uncomfortable or be worried about upsetting you. In this situation you can:

  • Try another way of speaking to them, like texting, messaging or writing a letter.
  • Let them know you’ll be there when they’re ready and reassure them that you want to hear how they’re feeling.
  • Encourage them to speak to someone else they trust. This could be a relative or family friend. They might like to read our young people’s guide to reaching out to help them decide who this person is.
  • Encourage them to speak to a helpline by phone, chat, email or text.

Sometimes, children and young people feel low or depressed in reaction to events happening in their life. It could be :

Can your child or young person identify anything that’s affecting them at the moment? Are there changes that could be made at home or school that would make things easier?

These things might sound simple, but they can have a big effect on our mood. They include:

  • eating regular healthy meals and drinking enough water
  • getting enough sleep and getting up a regular time
  • doing some movement or exercise
  • spending quality time with loved ones
  • balancing screen time with other activities

If they’re feeling very low in energy, you might want to start with something simple like watching a film or TV programme together. Or you can build up to things slowly. For example, if they usually enjoy exercising or playing sport, see if you can go for a short walk together. They can also listen to music or podcasts while you’re walking.

This is a list of the kinds of things that help when they’re struggling. It might include:

  • a list of their ‘support circle’ - the people they trust and feel comfortable reaching out to
  • the type of support they would like from you
  • activities that help them feel better
  • the services or helplines they can reach out to 
  • a list of the professionals they can speak to when they need help – this might be their GP, counsellor, teacher or CAMHS worker

Keep letting them know that:

  • you love them
  • you’re here for them
  • these feelings will not last forever
  • you can find support to help things feel better
A mother and son holding hands on a bench looking at each other
My son had become disconnected from life, and from all those who loved him. ... If any mother out there is experiencing a similar situation, my advice would be, play the mother’s card of unconditional love. It's not your fault, and you cannot control how your child is feeling, but you can have hope that love will win the war over depression.
Try to find situations where your child might be more open and willing to talk to you, such as in the car or on a walk.
Rachel, parent
Remember your child is not you, and their outlook and experience may be different to yours
Kathy, parent
Allow your child some privacy but be available for them if they need you.
Kathy, parent
Try not to ‘fix things’ - sometimes you just need to be there to listen.
Rachel, parent
Sometimes the time when you least want to be there is the time you most need to be there.
Kathy, parent
Try to find the things which might be causing pressure for your child, and find ways to remove them.
Rachel, parent

Young people's advice for someone going through depression:

  • 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 are not beneficial to you – like endlessly scrolling through Instagram before bed and sleeping late – can be really helpful.
  • Try to keep going outside, even if it’s just a short walk, it can really help your mood to life.
  • Realise that how you’re feeling won’t last forever and there’s always something to look forward to.

Finding professional support

If you’re worried about your child or young person’s mental health, get professional advice. If they are struggling with depression, they may need professional help to feel better. They may also benefit from a specific diagnosis or treatment.

Speaking to your GP is usually the first step to accessing mental health services through the NHS. The GP can explore how your child or young person is feeling. They can also discuss the options around treatment and support. Depending on how much they’re struggling, the GP may:

  • suggest local support services like counselling organisations
  • provide self-help resources
  • refer them for assessment and support such as therapy through your local NHS mental health service for young people, known as CAMHS
  • prescribe medication such as antidepressants, if they’re 18 or over

Medication for children and young people
A young person who is under 18 can only be prescribed medication by a doctor who specialises in children and young people’s mental health. This type of doctor is called a child and adolescent psychiatrist.

Medication should only be offered to someone who is under 18 alongside talking therapy or another treatment. If a young person is taking medication, they should be regularly contacted and reviewed by a health professional. This could be a GP, CAMHS professional or a psychiatrist.

Our medication guide has more information about the types of medication your young person might be offered.

Medication guides

Counsellors and therapists can help your child or young person to make sense of how they’re feeling. They can also support them to find ways of coping.

If your young person is 18 or older, they can refer themselves for free talking therapy with the NHS. They do not need to see a GP to do this. They can find their local service and refer themselves for therapy on the NHS website.

You can find out how to access counselling and therapy in our guide for parents and carers.

Counselling and therapy

If your child or young person is struggling, it can help to be open with the school about what’s going on. Depending on their age, it may be important to make sure they feel some control over the information that’s shared about them. For example by asking them who they would feel most comfortable for you to speak to.

Some schools provide a free counselling service to their students. Alongside this, schools may also offer:

  • mentoring
  • peer buddying
  • clubs and activities
  • advice through the school nurse
A father and son talking in a lounge seated
Engaging Jack in categorisation games - animal or Lord of the Rings alphabets, shape/colour-searching in a room, ten likes/dislikes about someone or something (usually his sister) - helped in situations when the storm clouds were gathering.

If your child is having suicidal thoughts

Some young people who are struggling with depression can experience feelings of no longer wanting to be alive or not being able to go on. This is known as experiencing ‘suicidal thoughts’. A young person can struggle with thoughts of suicide without acting on them. But suicidal thoughts can also develop into a plan or intention to attempt suicide. This means all suicidal thoughts should be taken seriously.

If your child or young person is experiencing suicidal thoughts, it can be incredibly distressing. We’ve got lots of advice about how you can support them and where you can find help in our guide for parents and carers.

If they are having a mental health crisis and they need help now, find out who to contact on our urgent help page.

More on suicidal thoughts

Get support from PAPYRUS

The PAPYRUS Hopeline can support you if you’re worried that your child or young person might be experiencing suicidal thoughts. Their advisors will explore your concerns and help you to support your young person’s safety.

Looking after yourself as a parent

Supporting a young person who is struggling with depression can be incredibly worrying. It’s completely understandable it’s affecting your own wellbeing. And it’s so important that you get the support you need too. This could include:

  • Asking for help

    This might look like asking someone to help with childcare so you can take a bit of time off. Or it might be meeting a trusted friend for an hour to talk things through.

  • Reaching out to other parents

    Many parents find it helpful to talk to others who have been through similar situations. This could be reaching out to a parent you already know, or your local parent and carer forum. Or you might be able to find a local parent group using the Charlie Waller Trust directory.

  • Accessing support

    If you need to, you can ask your GP about local services that provide support such as counselling or therapy. You can also access these services privately if it’s an option for you. Sometimes it helps just having someone there to listen to what you’re going through. If you need talk, you can call the Samaritans anytime on 116 123.

  • Look after yourself, as well as your child.
    Kathy, parent
  • I found it a frightening time, and very tiring.
    Rachel, parent
  • Seeking help for ourselves is not an admission of guilt, but ‘role-modelling’ good mental health for our children.
    Jacqui, parent
  • With our to-do lists multiplying overnight, that much-needed ‘me time’ inevitably starts to slip further down the list. But looking after our own wellbeing and self-care is so important.
    Kate, parent

Useful helplines and websites

While we take care to ensure that the organisations we signpost to provide high quality information and advice, we cannot take responsibility for any specific pieces of advice they may offer. We encourage parents and carers to always explore the website of a linked service or organisation to understand who they are and what support they offer before engaging with them.

  • YoungMinds Parents Helpline

    We support parents and carers who are concerned about their child or young person's mental health. Our Parents Helpline provides detailed advice and information, emotional support and signposting.

    You can speak to us over the phone or chat to us online.

    You can speak to us over webchat between 9.30am and 4pm from Monday-Friday. When we’re closed, you can still leave us a message in the chat. We’ll reply to you by email in 3-5 working days.

    Opening times:
    9.30am-4pm, Monday-Friday
  • Parenting Mental Health

    Digital support community and charity offering information, peer support, facilitated listening circles, mentoring and courses for parents of children with mental health difficulties.

    Founder Suzanne Alderson’s book Never Let Go - How to Parent Your Child Through Mental Illness (Penguin, 2020) outlines how she supported her daughter to recovery after she became depressed and suicidal.

  • Papyrus

    Offers confidential advice and support for young people struggling with suicidal thoughts, as well as family and friends; and information about how to make a safety plan.

    Its helpline service - HOPELINE247 - is available to anybody under the age of 35 experiencing suicidal thoughts, or anybody concerned that a young person could be thinking of suicide.

    Opening times:
    24/7 every day of the year
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This page was reviewed in May 2024.

It was created with parents and carers with lived experience of supporting their child or young person with depression or low mood.

We will next review the page in 2027.

YoungMinds is a proud member of PIF TICK – the UK's quality mark for trusted health information.

Whether you love the page or think something is missing, we appreciate your feedback. It all helps us to support more young people with their mental health.

Please be aware that this form isn’t a mental health support service. If your child is in crisis right now and you want to talk to someone urgently, find out who to contact on our urgent help page.

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This form is not a mental health support service. We cannot reply to this. If you or your child are at immediate risk of harm, call 999 and ask for an ambulance or go to your nearest A&E. If you are worried about your child’s mental health, call our Parents Helpline on 0808 802 5544, Mon-Fri, 9:30am – 4pm. If you are struggling with your own mental health, call Samaritans on 116 123.

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