Understanding children's mental health & emotional wellbeing


Depression is caused by the effect of stress on a child or young person who is already vulnerable. The response to stress is different for everyone and those who are more resilient tend to cope better with adversity.

Students with depression may stay under the radar as they may not present with behavioural issues and can be withdrawn. Most children and young people will have periods of feeling fed up and de-motivated. Some may develop symptoms of depression, for example following the death of a significant other. Depressive disorder is a more long term problem and children may present as emotionally ‘flat’ rather than unhappy.

There may be ‘out of character’ signs such as a marked change indicated for example, by a loss of interest and disengaging from school activity and with peers. They may feel or express a sense of worthlessness and present with psychosomatic symptoms such as headaches and stomach aches which may be a manifestation of the individual’s feelings, as well as having disturbed sleep patterns and tiredness. Younger children may feel tearful and be more irritable; they may appear to be excessively worried.  In adolescents the moods may be more pronounced.

What to lookout for:

  • A noticeable change in mood and behaviour and/or academic performance
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Poor peer relationships
  • Poor concentration and lethargy
  • School refusal

More serious signs can include:

  • A change in personality
  • A lack of interest in personal appearance and hygiene
  • Recurring thoughts and talk about death and suicide

Remember to consider other factors such as changes in family circumstances, and always take suicidal threats seriously.

Ways to support children and young people experiencing depression

  • Ask sympathetically how they are and listen to the response
  • Encourage the child/young person to remain active and to take part in regular physical exercise
  • Encourage good diet and regular sleep patterns

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) has published guidance on dealing with children with depression, which includes the responsibilities of teaching staff. This is available at www.nice.org.uk/page.aspx?o=cg028