Depression: A guide for parents and carers

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The warning signs

Depression impacts many young people. Yet it can be challenging sometimes to distinguish between normal adolescent behaviour and depression. While the teenage years often give rise to many big emotions, these warning signs are recognised by mental health professionals as the common symptoms of depression to look out for.

Irregular sleep

Sleep patterns can fluctuate massively when experiencing depression. Less or more sleep, not feeling refreshed after sleep and an ‘upside down’ time clock (either waking very early or sleeping all day and up at night) are all common occurrences.

Decreased energy with a sad, anxious or low mood

We all have days when we’re not feeling particularly happy, but for those experiencing depression, this low mood can become the norm. Take note if your child no longer seems to take pleasure from activities or situations that they normally enjoy.

Significant change in appetite or weight

Food can be a great comfort, but it can also be a cause for concern. Under- or over-eating, as well as excessive comfort eating, are often linked to depression and anxiety.

Less resilience

Depressed people will have a tendency to feel easily ‘picked upon’ by others. They will be less able to ‘bounce back’ from small setbacks and more irritable than usual when it comes to unexpected changes to routine.

Decreased energy and feeling slowed up

Sudden changes in academic or school work, such as wanting to drop out of courses, missing deadlines or avoiding work completely, may be a result of feeling disconnected from daily life.

Reduced interest or pleasure in normally enjoyable activities

Becoming isolated or actively avoiding normal situations and networks, including family, friends and peers, can be a sign of struggling with negative feelings.

Thoughts of death or suicide

Becoming fixated with sad events and loss, ruminating over sad songs and tragic storylines: these are all natural as part of the formative teenage years. Too much focus on these areas, however, can be a sign of depression.

Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions

A common sign of depression is an unusual degree of worrying and obsessing about everyday events, often obsessing over small details or situations and catastrophising.

Feelings of worthlessness, guilt and helplessness

Depressed people may experience a new or unusual lack of confidence, or a sense of feeling ‘stuck’ and unable to make progress.

Guilt and hopelessness

These strong negative emotions can lead to being self-absorbed and self-blaming for things, even when the circumstances are not within a person's control.

Risky behaviour

Unusual impulsive or risky actions, including excessive alcohol, drug use and self-harm, can be a result of feeling depressed.

Unexplained physical symptoms

Young people who are depressed can also often have and complain about aches, pains and continuous fatigue.

What to do if I notice these warning signs

Depressive reactions can be triggered by single life events. Bereavement, parental divorce, relationship breakdowns and exam failure are all events that could cause your child a great deal of worry and concern.

The warning signs individually are not necessarily a problem. Yet if you notice that your child exhibits five our more of these signs for over two weeks or if any one seems particularly severe, it may be more serious.

These signs may build up slowly, but with a gradual impact on your child’s functioning and enjoyment of life. Keep a note of your concerns; a written log with dates can help you track the severity of the problem. If you need to go to your GP and explore therapies and treatments, this written record may help you to feel more in control of a worrying situation.


Learn how to talk to your child




Depression booklet

Featuring useful facts, figures and information, this booklet also contains sources of help and what not to say to people experiencing depression

View resource

Guide to depression for parents and carers

This booklet aims to help recognise and understand depression and how to get appropriate help for their child

View resource

Guide to depression for parents and carers (Welsh)

This booklet aims to help parents recognise and understand depression and how to get appropriate help for their child

View resource

Low mood poster

Poster created in partnership with Bank Workers Charity highlighting common causes of low mood, how to help yourself feel better and information on where to get more help.

View resource

Warning signs poster

A bold A3 poster showing the warning signs that tell you when someone may be depressed. This poster could save a life.

View resource

Wellbeing Action Plan (child)

A simple, resource to help young people keep themselves well and get them through difficult times

View resource

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