How do I know that my child is struggling with sadness/feeling depressed?
A child experiencing prolonged sadness or feelings of depression may:
- Lose interest in things they have previously enjoyed.
- Be eating more or less than usual.
- Be sleeping more or less than usual.
- Have physical symptoms, such as headache or tummy ache, that don’t respond to treatment.
- Show an increased inability to function in social events or activities, and withdraw from them.
- Express feelings of hopelessness or guilt.
- Be unable to concentrate at their usual level.
- Complaining of fatigue and not having their usual level of energy.
- Be easily irritable or sensitive.
- Have vocal outbursts or bouts of crying for “no reason”.
How can I tell the difference between normal sadness and feeling depressed?
How can I support my child if they won’t tell me what’s wrong?
Try as we might, sometimes our children just don’t want to talk to us! Even when all of their behaviour is screaming out that they need help. It’s one of the most frustrating and painful things about parenting. Here are some of our tips for providing more indirect support:
- Mention your concern to your child’s teacher so they can keep an eye on them in school.
- Spend some alone time with your child alone doing a stress-relieving activity that you enjoy together. This gives your child a private time in which they can relax and open up when they are ready. Examples could be bowling, going to the arcade, swimming or colouring, whatever your child responds to.
- Listen to what they do express and respond with care. Try not to ask too many questions or gloss over it with solutions, but just let them know they have been heard and you are here to help them if they need it. Depression is particularly difficult for a child to talk about.
- Try to help them maintain their social contacts. A depressed child may want to isolate themselves, but providing opportunities for them to chat and communicate with others is important. Create chances to spend time with friends and family and encourage their interests with sports or creative clubs or activities.
- Where possible, help your child maintain a healthy lifestyle: daily exercise, (walking to school, walking the dog, playing football in the garden etc) good nutrition (perhaps utilising some food science to help boost their mood and adequate sleep. (Teenagers need 9-10 hours per night).
- Encourage their siblings to provide support. One child’s emotions will undoubtedly cause an inbalance in a household, so give their siblings time and space to express their feelings about it to you, and help them try and understand what they can do to support.
How do I take the next step if nothing seems to be working?
- Encourage your child to speak to someone at school – perhaps a school nurse, counsellor, safeguarding lead or peer mentor to get them more regular help.
- Help your child connect with a local support group.
- Take your child to the GP for a discussion about things that might help them feel better.
- Seek professional help for your child from counsellor or psychiatrist. You can get a referral from the NHS for these services, or you could seek help from some of the outside charities mentioned below.
- Remember to include your child in treatment choices. If you can, try and let them know that they have some control over their treatment, letting them know that if they don’t “connect” with their counsellor or support group they could try another.
What can I do when I feel like I’m over my head?
- Remember: It’s normal to feel like that. This is a difficult and challenging time, and it’s okay to feel overwhelmed.
- Find support for you; don’t shut yourself off from help and be honest about your own feelings.
- Don’t blame yourself.
- Be hopeful. You are not alone.