Understanding Mental Health in Children

Updated: Mar 22

Did you know 1 in 8 young people aged 14 to 19 has a mental health problem? (Anxious Minds). The statistics also show nearly 80,000 children and young people suffer from depression in the UK (YoungMinds). Whether you are a parent, carer or someone concerned about the mental state of a child or young people, we have information for everyone to understand what this means, and how to help someone you are worried about. There will be available links at the bottom of the page for more information.

Growing up for children and young people can be difficult at specific periods of their lives. Some may find it difficult to maintain friendships and stay up to date with their studies. It can also lead to confusion for families to understand. Young people at risk may also be those suffering from hardship, abuse, exploitation, and neglect. Without the right help, they can develop long term mental health problems and may find it challenging opening up to new people or specialists, which can impact their future relationships and opportunities.

It is important to spot the signs and be aware of any behaviour changes in order to intervene at an early stage. A child or young person doesn’t need to be clinically diagnosed as having mental health issues to seek help.

Signs of poor mental health (YoungMinds):

  • Not enjoying things they previously enjoyed

  • Irregular eating patterns (eating more, or less, than usual)

  • Not wanting to be in social situations

  • Irregular sleeping patterns (sleeping more, or less, than usual)

  • Unusual mood swings (getting irritable, miserable or upset more often)

  • Feeling lonely

  • Being more self-critical than usual

  • Feeling hopeless

  • Thoughts/actions on wanting to self-harm

  • Feeling lethargic more often

If you think a child or young person has more than one of these symptoms, it doesn’t necessarily need to cause concern. It is important to see your GP to get a professional viewpoint and guidance if you are worried.

What can I do?

It is important to be someone a child or young person can confide in. This makes it easier for a child or young person to open up if you make it easy for them to listen, support, counsel, guide and nurture them. One common mistake is giving off the impression that you “know it all”. Make sure you are mindful when talking about your own experiences as this can have different reactions to their thoughts and feelings. Each person has been shaped by their perspective of life and it is important to remember this, especially if they are anxious.

How can I support my child during this time?

Prioritise your child’s emotional well being: Make sure you are taking the time to talk about feelings to understand how they may be affecting behaviours. In this way, a source of stress may be found as well as any fears and anxieties. Discuss coping strategies to deal with negative feelings and make your home emotionally supportive, with as much care from all family members. We have a few tips that can be implemented at home.

Stress management: Stress can work as a motivator for some, but others can feel the impact negatively. Talk about potential stressors and plan on managing any impacts by making them aware of when they may arise. Look out for any signs and symptoms, and keep the communication barrier open between you and your child. Encourage an outlet away from their study schedules too.

A healthy lifestyle: Make sure your child has a good amount of sleep. A healthy body promotes a healthy mind. Sleep is important for positive emotional wellbeing and helps information retain in the brain, this is important to know during learning and revision sessions. Exercise is crucial too - take time to go for a walk to release stress through endorphins. Prepare regular healthy food and keep healthy snacks around during study times.

Set realistic expectations: Parents tend to naturally set high expectations for their children, which makes it very stressful for a child to meet and understand. Parents forget children tend to set expectations upon themselves, this can promote negative feelings and emotions. Be mindful of how you are portraying your views and trust your child to try their best in whatever they are doing.

Activities and hobbies: Your child may be involved in none, one or all the after-school clubs on offer but what about hobbies they could do at home? Encourage your child to take online lessons in an area of interest, drawing lessons and coding are popular! If not online, invest in sports equipment for your garden, have a family game night, cook and bake together or find some online videos for your child to learn a new dance routine to their favourite song! Activities are a great way for your child to meet new friends and to put their mind onto a new goal, even if this is short-term.

If you feel that talking to your child is not helping or beneficial, you should think about booking in a visit to the GP to give them the space to talk to someone, with the guidance of professional help. If the child or young person is someone you aren’t as close to, encourage them to speak to their families, teachers, school counsellor or friend that they trust.

Depression can be eased with therapy, medication or a combination of both, Exercise has also been shown to have relieving effects of some symptoms. There is also cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) to help the child manage any thoughts or feelings they may have, this is a type of talking therapy and others are also available.

For more information:

YoungMinds - depression

Anxious Minds - Young People

FutureLearn also provides a free course to help understand depression in young people.


If you are concerned about a child or young person, please click here

YoungMinds: Phone: Parents' UK helpline 0808 802 5544 (Monday to Friday, 9.30 am to 4 pm)

Childline: 0800 1111

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