Depression, anxiety and mental health

If you're worried a child may be struggling with their mental health or has anxiety about coronavirus (COVID-19), we've got advice to help you support them.

Talking to a child worried about coronavirus (COVID-19)

If your child is anxious or worried about coronavirus (COVID-19), there are things you can do to help. And if they're struggling with their mental health, we have advice to help you support them and keep them safe.

There's a lot of uncertainty in the world at the moment. And there won't always be answers to the questions your children are asking. But we can help you have these conversations in a safe and open way.

You can also try these 8 tips to help talk to your child about coronavirus from Blackpool Better Start.

  • Encourage your child to talk to you or another trusted adult about how they’re feeling. We’ve got tips on how and where to have difficult conversations. Remember, this doesn’t always have to be face-to-face – they might find it easier writing their thoughts down. You could create a ‘feelings box’ where you all put good, sad or difficult feelings in and then talk about them at the end of the day.
  • For younger children, play can be a great way to help them talk about their worries or give them a good distraction when they're upset. But not being able to play with their friends can be hard. Set aside time to play together and have fun.
  • You might notice some changes in your children's behaviour. Younger children may start thumb sucking or bedwetting and older children may have mood swings and be irritable. You might also notice changes in appetite or sleep patterns. These can be ways your child is experiencing stress. It takes time to adjust to the new "normal" and children may need lots of support and reassurance to help them through it.
  • Your child might have a very real fear of the people they love and care for dying or getting seriously ill. It can be difficult but it's okay to have conversations about death. Marie Curie has advice on talking to children about death and Childline has advice for young people when someone dies.
  • Some young people might be anxious about if there will be enough food. Have conversations about how what they might see in the news or online isn't always the same as what's happening. Involve them in food shopping and be mindful of conversations you might have with other adults about frustrations buying food.
  • For children with eating disorders, worries about food can be really challenging. Talk to them about their worries and speak to Beat, the eating disorder charity, if you need advice. Read their advice on eating disorders and coronavirus (COVID-19) for up-to-date information and support.
  • Rolling news and social media can cause a lot of anxiety. Remind children of the facts and explain what false or sensationalised information is. It's important to allow your children to ask questions about the things they see online. And if you don't know the answer, letting them know that some things aren't certain or known yet is okay.
  • It’s important to understand the huge impact of missing family, friends and schoolmates can have on children of all ages. Let your child express these emotions and don’t minimise their feelings.
  • Finding ways to have social interactions can be tricky, especially if you’re worried about screen-time, but it's possible to find the right balance with using smartphones and webcams to keep in touch. Talk together about how you can all manage your screen-time as a family. The benefits of alleviating anxiety by staying connected to friends and family cannot be underestimated.
  • With most socialising moving online, it's important to have conversations on how an increase in screen-time can have an impact on everyone's mental health and self-esteem. It's okay to let your children know that the way they might feel is a normal response to an abnormal situation.
  • It's normal for a lack of routine and structure to make children and young people feel anxious and upset. It can be challenging to find a routine that works for everyone, especially if you're juggling working from home with taking care of children with different needs. A rota or timetable, even a loose one, can help alleviate anxiety. Structure can help children see what's happening next in the day, look forward to rest of the week and differentiate between weekdays and weekends.
  • Finding practical things to do to alleviate anxiety and worries can feel tricky when you're mostly indoors. Some things you can try are yoga, mindfulness, puzzle games, crafting projects, cooking, exercise classes and growing plants from seeds. Childline's coping kit is also full of helpful advice. 
  • Uncertainty about the future, like exam results and when they'll be allowed to go out, can be stressful. While there's no right answer, there are lots of free online tools and resources that can help children work through their worries. Have a look online together to find ones that work best for your child and help them feel like they have control.
  • Let your children read advice and information that's tailored to them. Childline have advice on coronavirus and lots of tools to help alleviate anxiety. Young Minds have advice for young people on looking after your mental health while self-isolating. Department of Psychiatry has guides to help explain to children that someone has died.
  • Share Childline's Calm zone, a unique space for children and young people filled with breathing exercises, activities, games and videos to help let go of stress.

We're working hard to make sure we're still here for children. Will you be there too?

Signs of depression or anxiety in children

Knowing how to talk to your child about their mental health, or recognising the signs that they might be struggling, can be really hard. Signs of depression or anxiety in children can sometimes look like normal behaviour, particularly in teenagers who can keep their feelings to themselves. 

It’s also natural for children or young people to feel stressed or anxious about things like exams or moving to a new school. But while these experiences can be very difficult, they’re different from longer term depression or anxiety, which affect how a child or young person feels every day.

It can help to think about what’s normal for your child and if you’ve noticed signs that they’ve been behaving differently recently.

Signs of depression in children and teenagers can include:

    • persistent low-mood or lack of motivation
    • not enjoying things they used to like doing
    • becoming withdrawn and spending less time with friends and family
    • experiencing low self-esteem or feeling like they are ‘worthless’
    • feeling tearful or upset regularly
    • changes in eating or sleeping habits.

Signs of anxiety in children and teenagers can include:

    • becoming socially withdrawn and avoiding spending times with friends or family
    • feeling nervous or ‘on edge’ a lot of the time
    • suffering panic attacks
    • feeling tearful, upset or angry
    • trouble sleeping and changes in eating habits.

Helping a child with anxiety or depression

Realising that your child may be struggling with their mental health and experiencing anxiety or depression can be hard to accept. Sometimes parents can feel like it’s their fault or want to know why their child is struggling with a mental health problem. This is completely understandable, but the most important thing you can do is to reassure your child and not judge them for how they’re feeling.

Ways to help a child who’s struggling include:

    • letting them know you’re there for them and are on their side
    • try talking to them over text or on the phone if they don’t feel able to talk in person
    • being patient and staying calm and approachable, even if their behaviour upsets you
    • recognising that their feelings are valid and letting them know it’s okay for them to be honest about what it’s like for them to feel this way
    • thinking of healthy ways to cope you could do together, like yoga, breathing exercises or mindfulness
    • encouraging them to talk to their GP, someone at their school or Childline. Especially if they’re finding it hard to talk at home.
    • take care of yourself and get support if you need to. Try not to blame yourself for what’s happening and to stay hopeful about your child’s recovery.

"Childline saved my life so many times."

Sioned had a chaotic home life and looked after her mother who had depression.

Growing up she struggled with her mental health and tried to take her own life. Childline were a safe place for her to turn throughout her teenage years, and helped her to feel someone cared.

Read Sioned's story

If you're worried a child is feeling suicidal

While not every child with depression or anxiety will feel suicidal, sometimes mental health problems can feel overwhelming for children and young people. If a young person talks about wanting to hurt or harm themselves, or expresses suicidal feelings, they should always be taken seriously.

Signs that a child or young person may be having suicidal feelings or thinking about suicide, include:

    • becoming more depressed or withdrawn, spending a lot of time by themselves
    • an increase in dangerous behaviours like taking drugs or drinking alcohol
    • becoming obsessed with ideas of suicide, death or dying, which could include internet searches
    • saying things like “I’d be better off dead”, “No one would miss me”, “I just wish I wasn’t here anymore”.

If you're worried, it's important to get help right away. Our trained counsellors can provide help or advice over the phone on 0808 800 5000. Children and young people under 19 can also get support from Childline online or over the phone, 24 hours a day.

However a child or young person is feeling, remind them that they're not alone and there are ways to cope and feel better. Childline also has online advice and tips for young people on coping with suicidal feelings that they can use right now.

 of all Childline counselling sessions were related to emotional health and wellbeing, including self-harm and suicidal thoughts and feelings.

Volunteer for vital services like Childline and help us make a difference to children with no one to turn to.

Getting mental health support for your child

Supporting a child with a mental health problem like depression or anxiety can be really hard and it’s important for a young person to speak to their GP about professional help if they’re struggling. This should be the first step you take if you’re worried a child may have a mental health problem. Sometimes a GP will prescribe medication to help a child or young person with depression or anxiety symptoms.

Your child may want to speak to their GP on their own or they may want you to be there with them. It’s important for you to support their decision if they’d prefer to talk to a GP alone, as sometimes young people can find it easier to talk about their feelings with someone they don’t know.

Childline is a free and confidential service for young people under 18. Children can talk to a trained counsellor over the phone, online via 1-2-1 chat or via email about anything that’s worrying them, 24 hours a day. Many young people find it easier to be honest about their mental health with someone they don’t know.

Childline also have lots of information and advice for young people on how to cope with mental health problems.

Their website also offers advice and coping techniques for:

It can also help to speak to someone at your child’s school, like their teacher. Your school should be able to provide someone who your child can speak to regularly about their mental health, such as a school counsellor. Ask your child if there’s a teacher at their school they might feel comfortable speaking to. 

If your child has been feeling unhappy or anxious for a long time, or is showing signs of self-harm or suicidal thoughts, it’s important to consider professional help so that they can get the support they need.

Child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) is a free NHS service for children and young people under 18. CAMHS can help young people who are struggling with serious mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, self-harm, panic attacks or eating problems.

Referral is usually done through your child’s GP and unfortunately it can take up to several weeks for an initial assessment. Social services can also refer young people to CAMHS if they’re already supporting your child.
Sometimes parents come to the first appointment with their child, or may be offered family therapy but often your child will see a CAMHS worker on their own. This is important as it can help children to be more honest about how they’re feeling.

Young Minds have advice for parents about supporting children with a range of mental health problems.

The Mix offer advice on a range of topics for young people under 25. They have a 24-hour crisis messenger for young people who need help right away. 

Mindfulness guide for families

Concerned about your child's mental health? Our best-selling mindfulness guide is filled with exercises, activities, and coping strategies for when your child is struggling with depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues. 

Get your mindfulness guide