How to Recognise Symptoms of Depression in Children

October 10, 2017 Published by

According to a government-funded study (which looked for signs of depression in over 10,000 young people), a quarter of girls and nearly one in 10 boys show signs of depression at the age of 14; a critical age -the Millennium Cohort Study found that half of all cases of adult mental illness start by the age of 14.

Lead investigator Dr Praveetha Patalay, from Liverpool University, said teenagers, and particularly girls, were facing more mental health difficulties than previous generations – although the study did not specifically look at this.

So what is causing this apparent rise in cases of depression amongst the young?  Exam stress, social media and worries about body image are major contributors.  As are family difficulties, bullying, abuse or a family history of depression / mental health problems 

Sometimes depression is triggered by one difficult event (such as parents separating, a bereavement or problems with school or other children) but is often caused by a mixture of things.

Parents play an important role in identifying mental health issues in their children; they need to talk to them and establish a culture where their child wants to talk about their anxieties.  We all lead busy lives and finding time to sit down and talk with our children can be difficult, but it is important for their well being – they need to be able to offload, discuss problems, air their worries and have a sounding board for what is ‘normal.’    

Unfortunately, the government-funded study found that parents revealed that many weren’t in tune with their children’s anxieties.  This may be due to the fact that society has changed a great deal and young people are encountering problems that are totally alien to parents, or it could be because we lead busy lives and no longer have the time to talk.  We have seen a significant decline in the number of families who sit down together for at least one meal a day; often children eat alone in front of the TV and almost one in three British households are headed by parents who both have full-time jobs.

But the rise in numbers could also be down to the fact that children (and society as a whole) are more willing to acknowledge and address mental health issues.  We are much more aware and accepting of issues relating to mental health and there are now lots of resources out there to help and guide us. 

Young Minds is the UK’s leading charity championing the well-being and mental health of young people; their website is packed with information.  With regards to depression they have outlined the signs to look for:

  • continuous low mood or sadness
  • feeling hopeless and helpless
  • having low self-esteem
  • feeling tearful
  • feeling guilt-ridden
  • feeling irritable and intolerant of others
  • having no motivation or interest in things
  • finding it difficult to make decisions
  • not getting any enjoyment out of life
  • feeling anxious or worried
  • having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harming


Whatever the cause is of the rise in numbers of young people experiencing mental issues, we need to remember that parents and carers play an important role in providing the help and support for those involved.  Looking out for key indicators and establishing a culture of talk with your child are positive steps in identifying and tackling mental health in the young. 

If you are worried your child may have depression, you can speak to Childline or your GP.

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This post was written by Claire Gillies

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