Signs of Depression in Young Adults & Children

Children and young adults can’t always recognise signs of depression within themselves and maybe largely unaware that they need to reach out for help. It can also be difficult to distinguish between normal teenage angst and true depression, however, it is estimated that 1 in 5 young people will suffer from depression before they have reached adulthood. (1)

While depression in children and young adults can be scary to navigate, it is a very common mental health issue and therefore it can be easy to treat. Introducing coping mechanisms early on also reduces the risk of developing depression as an adult.

Some level of moodiness is to be expected from everyone. It is helpful to be mindful of not only the general tell-tale signs of depression but also how long these signs have been showing.

Any prolonged changes to your child’s overall behaviour need to be addressed and seeking professional help as soon as possible is important to the development of your child.

As a parent or carer, it is important to know the signs of depression in children and young adults.

Signs of depression in children and young adults

Some common symptoms of depression in children and young adults can include:

  • low mood or irritability
  • overall lethargy and lack of energy
  • loss of interest in things that they previously enjoyed
  • trouble sleeping at night
  • sudden behavioural changes, i.e. suddenly acting out in school

Other things to look out for are:

  • lack of concentration
  • lack of confidence
  • less interaction with friends and family
  • talk of self-harm or suicide
  • actual self-harm

Behavioural changes are not the only indicators to look out for. Physical changes such as regular stomach aches and headaches can be a sign of depression. Other physical indicators are sudden weight loss or weight gain.

Some older children may also turn to drugs or alcohol to help cope with their depression and it is important to differentiate between one act of rebellion and a spiral into depression or a cry for help.

Understanding depression in children and young adults

The pre-teen and teen years can be incredibly tough on some people, and while some amount of general moodiness is to be expected from most children and teenagers, it is important to understand the difference between a mood swing and depression.

Young people can face many challenges that they may not be able to work through emotionally. Hormonal changes, physical changes and peer pressure are issues that every young person faces, and it is understandable that anyone can be pushed over the edge with the introduction of other troubling factors.

Some of the factors that can heighten the onset of depression in young people are:

  • bullying
  • exam stress
  • divorce or family break-ups
  • learning difficulties
  • abuse or neglect

However, it is important to know that even children and young adults who don’t face these challenges can suffer from depression as even hormone changes can trigger depression. And while depression tends to run in families, this does not mean that parents who have never suffered from depression don’t have to worry about their teenagers or children facing it. Depression can affect everyone.

Knowing the signs and having an open, honest relationship with your child can help them not only feel comfortable talking about any issues they might have but may also make them feel more confident overall.

First steps to take in helping your child deal with depression

There are certain steps you and your child can take together in the first instance of signs of mental health struggles. Sometimes just knowing that they are not alone and that they have support is enough to alleviate some fears or worries that some children might have.

Encouraging a healthier and more active lifestyle is important as well as it means that your child does not fall into a vicious circle of bad habits and feeling worthless.

Some things you can do at home are:

  • Encourage healthy eating habits
  • Get outdoors as often as possible
  • Establish good sleeping habits
  • Limit screen time
  • Discourage bad habits such as drinking alcohol

Some more affection-based ways to help alleviate anxiety are:

  • Show affection in a way that your child is comfortable with
  • Make sure they know that you love them
  • Make time to enjoy family meals together – this is a good opportunity to ask them about their day and how they’re feeling
  • Encourage them to keep a diary
  • Establish relaxing routines, such as listening to soothing music at bedtime

It is important not to feel discouraged if these suggestions don’t work. Some children and young adults need a little extra help to feel secure. Let them know that it is okay to need this extra help.

Professional help is available

While it may seem daunting when you have a child or teenager suffering from depression, the good news is that there is help available.

Depression is one of the most common of all mental health problems (2) and it is one of the easiest to treat.

Choosing the right counsellor is a good place to start. It is important that your child or teenager feels comfortable talking to their mental health professional – don’t be afraid to find a new one if your child feels uncomfortable or unable to open up.

Many therapists and counsellors are specially trained in treating children and young adults and will be able to help your child pinpoint what is causing the issue and navigate their emotions in a healthier way.

Some good places to find a counsellor are through your child’s GP, their school or a recommendation from a friend or family member.

There are also lots of charities that specialise in mental health and some, like Barnardos, specialise in helping children and young adults with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Also, websites such as Hub of Hope can give you information on mental health charities in your local area.

Children and young adults on anti-depressants

While therapy will be the first step in getting your child over their depression, in rare cases, some children may be prescribed anti-depressants as well as counselling to allow them to overcome their problems.

Not all antidepressants have been licensed for use in under 18s, however, some are safe to take and your doctor will know the correct dosage that will be safe for a child.

It can be scary for parents/guardians as well as young people when they have prescribed something like this. However, it is important to talk openly about it and make sure they know that there is no shame in seeking help. In fact, seeking help takes a lot of strength and courage.