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Low mood and depression - advice for parents and carers

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Our mood can be affected by lots of different things, and it is normal for children and young people to feel their mood change in response to events in their lives. This is particularly the case for children and young people with a health condition, or who have experienced a serious illness or injury.

Often children will feel down when things are not going well for them, or as a result of issues such as a new diagnosis, an unexpected, scary event, parental separation, stress at school, or falling out with friends.

There will be times when a young person’s mood is low for a prolonged period of time, such as every day for several weeks or months. Often this coincides with being unable to feel happy or excited about the usual things in their lives. They may feel they want to cry more often, feel numb, lack motivation to do the usual things, or not want to be around other people as much.

This is commonly referred to as low mood or depression, and is experienced by around 3% of children under 13 years old, and around 6% for 13 to 18 year olds. This can range from mild to more severe low mood and depression.

Signs and symptoms

The list of symptoms below are common in people experiencing a period of low mood or depression. However, we will all experience some of these at different points in our lives. Depression impacts how we feel, what we think, and what we do. Pay attention to how frequently a child or young person has been experiencing these, and over how long a period of time.

  • being more tearful, upset or irritable
  • changes in sleep pattern - sleeping too much or not being able to sleep
  • changes in appetite - excessive comfort eating or appearing disinterested in food
  • lack of energy or excessive tiredness
  • regular complaints of feeling unwell
  • feeling hopeless, or not looking forward to the future
  • having difficulty concentrating on school work
  • losing interest in activities they used to like
  • becoming socially withdrawn
  • losing interest in how they look
  • lowered confidence and sense of self-worth.

Occasionally young people will engage in deliberate self-harm in response to the way they are feeling. If your child is self harming, or expressing suicidal thoughts, please speak to your GP. If you think they are at imminent risk of harm, please contact your GP out of hours, or dial 111 for advice or attend your local A&E. Please check the self-harm section for further advice.

How to help

Keep communicating. Sometimes teenagers find it easier to talk when side by side, or when out and about together, as this removes the pressure to open up immediately.

Try and normalise the young person’s feelings, let them know it is ok to feel sad or down from time to time. This will be especially true if their health condition has been difficult to manage, they have been struggling with adjustment to an illness or injury, there have been difficulties in their family or friendship groups, or increased stress at school.

Reassure them that you are there for them, and always willing to listen.

Encourage them to keep up with friends and social activities, or hobbies and sports that they previously enjoyed.

If you are still worried, please discuss with your child’s GP or hospital consultant regarding the best next steps. This might include a referral to the Paediatric Psychology Service based at the RHC, or to your local CAMHS.

Useful resources

Young Minds

Whether you are a young person wanting to understand more about how you're feeling and find ways to feel better, or you want to support someone who's struggling, Young Minds can help.


Support for children and young people online and on the phone anytime.

Breathing Space

Breathing Space aims to provide:

  • an alternative and easily accessible ‘first stop’ service
    assistance at an early stage in order to stop problems escalating
  • empathy, understanding and advice through active listening
  • hope when none exists
  • direction for those who do not know where to seek help

So don't let problems get out of hand, phone Breathing Space, where experienced advisors will listen and offer information and advice. Tel: 0800 83 85 87

Aye Mind

Activities, resources and links to organisations to support young people's mental wellbeing.

Calm Harm

Calm Harm is an award-winning app developed for teenage mental health charity stem4 by Dr Nihara Krause, Consultant Clinical Psychologist.

Calm Harm provides tasks to help you resist or manage the urge to self-harm.


SafeSpot is an app designed to help young people improve their coping skills.

As well as links to download the app, the website contains games and resources to support mental health.


HandsOn provides help and practical advice for supporting children and young people's mental health and emotional wellbeing.

HandsOn was developed by Playfield Institute, a part of Fife CAMHS, along with other services including Educational Psychology and School Nursing.

Editorial Information

Last reviewed: 22 December 2021

Next review: 31 January 2025

Author(s): Paediatric Psychology Service