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About low mood and depression

It is normal for children and young people to have ups and downs in their mood. Their mood can be affected by a range of issues, and it is common for them to feel low when things are not going well for them. They may feel low in response to particular situations, such as parental separation, exam stress or falling out with friends.

Sometimes, a person's mood can remain low for a prolonged period of time or they may feel down most of the time. This is commonly referred to as depression. Depression describes anything from regularly experiencing low mood to a more severe mental illness, clinical depression.

Some children or young people are more prone to low mood and depression than others, due to a number of different factors. For example, teenage girls are more likely to experience depression than boys, and depression has a tendency to run in families.

Things to think about

Some things you might notice when a child or young person is struggling with low mood are: 

  • being more tearful, upset or irritable
  • changes in sleep pattern - sleeping too much or not being able to sleep
  • changes in appetite - excessive comfort eating or appearing disinterested in food
  • lack of energy or excessive tiredness
  • regular complaints of feeling unwell
  • having difficulty concentrating on school work
  • losing interest in activities they used to like
  • becoming socially withdrawn
  • losing interest in how they look
  • lowered confidence and sense of self-worth.

Most people have experienced things described in the list above at some point. If you notice any of these things in a child or young person, it's important to think about how often they are happening and if they have occurred over a long period of time. It's also important to remember that these changes in behaviour don't necessarily indicate that a child or young person is experiencing depression.

If you are concerned that a child or young person is also having thoughts of self-harm, please go to the section on self-harm.

Think about your response

Some people will find it easy to identify with a child or young person experiencing low mood, whereas others will find it more difficult to think about these feelings. If you haven't experienced low mood yourself, it can be very frustrating trying to understand why they can’t just ‘get over it’. It is important to think about your own feelings to ensure you respond helpfully to their needs.

What you can do

  • Reassure the child or young person that it is ok to feel low or down at times.
  • If they are going through something such as a bereavement or parental separation, reassure them that their low mood is a normal reaction to a life-changing event.
  • Encourage them to talk to you, or someone else they trust, about how they feel.
  • Try to find out if there is anything causing them to feel low - if there is, support them to reduce any pressures that are impacting on their mood.
  • Encourage them to participate in social activities, as being socially connected is a protective factor against developing depression.
  • Encourage them to get plenty of exercise and make time for relaxation, as these can help improve emotional wellbeing.

Other resources 

Depression self-help guide from NHS Inform:

Mikeysline, website with text-based support:

Moodcafe, self-help website from NHS Fife:

Move Mood, app to help improve your mood: 

Who to contact if you're still concerned

For parents and carers

Please contact your health visitor, school, GP or other professional involved with your family.

For professionals

Please consult with other professionals involved or the named person, and to help identify the most appropriate support, go to: