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What is depression?

Everyone feels low for short spells from time to time. It can be a natural reaction to stressful, upsetting or difficult experiences. However when feeling low goes on and on and gets so bad that it interferes with ordinary life, then it can become a problem.

Children can feel like this too and when they do they may need help.

What are the signs of depression?

Signs of depression include:

  • moodiness
  • irritability
  • easily upset
  • tearful
  • avoiding contact with friends and family
  • feeling guilty
  • self-critical
  • hating themselves
  • feeling very unhappy most of the time
  • feeling hopeless
  • difficulty concentrating
  • not looking after their personal appearance
  • not sleeping or waking early
  • tiredness
  • lack of energy

If your child has all or most of these signs for a long time and in different environments it may mean that they are depressed.

What are the effects?

Because depression affects so many aspects of life, your child’s outlook, how they feel, what they can do, it can make it hard for them to cope with ordinary life as well as usual.

In some cases it can have dangerous effects, increasing the risk of:

  • self-injury such as overdoses
  • self-cutting
  • drug or alcohol misuse
  • suicide

Children who are depressed will often be unable to talk about these difficulties unless they are directly asked.

How can I help?

Talk to your child by asking sympathetically how they feel and listening to them.

Reassurance and advice may be helpful. Often depression can be caused by worry about a particular problem. Sometimes solving the problem can solve the depression.

Encourage your child to be physically active through sports or similar activity.

Praise their efforts.

When should we get specialist help?

If the depression continues and is causing serious difficulties, it’s important to seek treatment. Talk to your family doctor who will be able to advise about what help may be available. Sometimes they will be able to arrange a referral to the local mental health support services where you and your child can be seen and talked to by special workers including doctors if needed.

These specialists can diagnose depression and help with practical and effective ways of overcoming it. Often this is through talking but sometimes medicines called anti-depressants can be offered if talking treatments aren’t helpful. These medicines can take a few weeks to start working and usually need to be taken for at least 6 months.

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Please note: this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s NHS FT. These details may not reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If this information has been translated into another language from English, efforts have been made to maintain accuracy, but there may still be some translation errors. If you are unsure about any of the guidance in this resource or have specific questions about how it relates to your child, always ask your healthcare professional for further advice.

Resource number: MH13

Resource Type: Article

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