You may think that is a broad question or a question that is a bit dramatic, but unfortunately, it is an important one with an answer that may or may not surprise you. It is also a question that provides a basis for a tricky conversation that many people do not want to have.
Are my children depressed? What can I do to help them? Is it something I have done?
These are all questions that are associated with depression and children in the UK. All questions are hard for parents, teachers and carers to ask and hard for some to hear the answer to.
What is depression?
Depression is a disorder that according to the National Institute of Mental Health can affect everyone on the planet. Depression is a common but serious mood disorder. It causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think and handles activities.
It is more than just a “bad mood” but is a persistent sad, anxious or “empty mood” where someone feels hopeless or pessimistic about life. Other symptoms can also include decreased energy, feelings of guilt, fatigue, aches and pains, thoughts of death and suicide and difficulty concentrating.
What are the signs of depression?
According to the NHS, there are multiple signs of depression including the following:
- Persistent low mood
- Having low self-esteem
- Feeling guilt-ridden
- Feeling anxious or worried
- Having no motivation or interest in things
How is depression diagnosed?
There is no physical test for depression but if you have symptoms of depression that are not improving, finding that your mood affects your work, other interests and relationships or have thoughts of suicide or self-harm, you should talk to a GP and they will be able to tell you if they believe you have clinical depression.
Doctors may carry out some urine or blood tests to make sure that you do not have other conditions that have similar symptoms, such as an underactive thyroid.
How many people in the UK have depression?
According to Priory, there are approximately 280 million people worldwide who have depression, which is 5% of all adults in the world! In the UK, it is thought that around 4.5% of all adults are suffering from depression.
That is a huge amount! If you are more interested in the economic implications of this, workplace depression is said to cause a staggering 109 million lost working days every year in England with a loss of £9 billion to the economy.
So, if it is affecting you or not, or you don’t think it is affecting you; in reality it is. Depression is affecting literally everyone in the UK in one way or another. It seems a bit of a catch 22 but, depression is said to be causing a downturn in the economy and because of the current cost-of-living crisis, people are becoming depressed.
How many children in the UK have depression?
This is a difficult question to answer as there are some cases of depression or possible depression that are treated as anxiety or just a low mood.
We do know though that there are increasingly more and more young people and children struggling with their mental health though with a lot of children not having access to free mental health sessions.
According to Young Minds, 1 in 6 children aged 5 to 16 will have a probable mental health problem and nearly half of 17–19-year-olds with a diagnosable mental health disorder have self-harmed or attempted suicide at some point.
These are high numbers and when looking at recent trends, likely to continue to increase.
What is causing children to become depressed in the UK?
This is a question that can have a million answers and can all be dependent on the individual and the circumstances that they are in. There is no single cause for depression but it can be triggered by many different things.
Causes for depression can be most things that make you unhappy or anxious and can include family problems, illness, genetics, family history, the loss of a loved one, bullying, loneliness and more recently, the pandemic. According to the WHO, the pandemic triggered a 25% increase in the worldwide prevalence of anxiety and depression.
For children, a mixture of home stresses, school stresses, social pressures, near-constant exposure to media that pressures them to think or act one way and possible fall-outs with friends can all contribute to what causes children to become depressed.
What can I do as a parent?
If you are worried about your child and think they may have anxiety or depression, there are a few things you can do to help them.
Recognise the warning signs
One of the best ways to help your child early on is to learn to recognise the warning signs of depression. We all know that teenagers are prone to mood swings but there are a few things that may be tell-tale signs of depression. For example, fatigue and headaches, withdrawal, low self-esteem, hopelessness and feeling guilty and ashamed are all signs that your child or young person may be suffering from or beginning to suffer from depression.
Encourage a healthy lifestyle
Not only is this one of the most important things to do anyway but if you are living a healthy lifestyle then the chances are that your mental health will either improve or be better protected against depression and anxiety.
According to many experts, sports and exercise release endorphins that help people to relax and can help to stave off mental health concerns and depression. The same with eating healthy food, you will find that you will feel better about yourself if you eat healthier food with fewer sugars, fats and processed elements in it. You don’t get the nauseating sugar crash and you don’t feel as bloated or slow.
Help them feel less isolated
Thinking to yourself that you have depression is a difficult thing to go through. It can also become very isolating and lonely if you think that people don’t want to talk to you or about any problems you are going through.
It is extremely important to make your child feel connected, without forcing it, if you or they feel as if they have depression. Some ideas to get your child feeling involved with you are your family is by inspiring them to join a club, organising family gatherings and encouraging them to see their friends.
Another way is to talk to them. It may seem like the obvious but it is so obvious and worth saying we thought we would say it anyway. Talk to each other. It is so important to talk to the right person about whatever is on your mind and to speak with each other about important things such as mental health.
Get your child professional help
It is easier said than done in the UK to get affordable or free mental health support for your child. If you are lucky enough to have access to mental health services for your child and they need it, it is so beneficial to use it.
There are thousands of children around the UK who are in need of mental health support but either cannot wait on long waiting lists or cannot afford private treatment. You can contact the NHS for mental health services or organisations like Mind or Mental Health.
There are also children’s charities that support children and young people in the UK who are struggling with their mental health by providing free counselling and mental health support for those who are in need.
Whatever is causing your child’s depression, there are ways of helping them and ways to help them make things better. Yes, it is a serious health concern and will cause a difficult time, but it is also not impossible to tend to and ultimately make better.
Tom Gillett is the communications manager at Little Lives UK.