Low mood or depression

Feeling sad is a normal reaction; everyone feels low or down at times and children (just like adults) can be upset by many things: an incident or a break-up/argument with a friend, a disagreement at home, or just not doing as well at school as they expected.

But if the feeling is more than just sad or it persists for a longer time, then everyday sadness or low mood may move into something more serious such as depression – where children may see themselves and the future in a negative way, or they no longer feel or seem themselves.

Spotting the signs

Symptoms can include:

  • being moody and irritable
  • not being interested in things they used to enjoy
  • not wanting to go to school or go out
  • often feeling tired or exhausted
  • becoming withdrawn and isolating self from others
  • feeling unhappy and miserable or becoming tearful
  • sleep problems or sleeping a lot
  • changes in appetite
  • being self-critical
  • feeling hopeless and/or worthless

Find out more about low mood

MindEd is a free educational e-learning resource for professionals on children and young people’s mental health. This session aims to help staff better understand how anxiety affects children and supports them to recognise the difference between clinical depression and normal emotional experiences of sadness:

  • Sad, bored or isolated: recognising the difference between clinical depression and normal emotional experiences of sadness

Top Tips

Ask a child how they are.

Let them know that it matters to you.

Show you care.

Make sure they don’t feel they are being judged for feeling sad or low.

Think about which staff member the child feels most comfortable with.

They may be the best person to offer support.

What schools can do

Thoughts can really influence and affect our moods. However, many children may not be aware when this is happening to them. A number of universal and targeted school-based programmes can prevent children being overwhelmed by low mood and supports them to learn effective coping skills to manage life’s ups and downs. These programmes also help children connect with, label and express emotions in a healthy way which is an important protective factor.

Positive relationships in the classroom/school that are built on trust, safety and security promote pupil wellbeing and help children affected by sad or low mood – encouraging them to open up and talk.

Some children will also need a little extra help either through school pastoral/counselling support, through discussion with your school nurse or through referral to community-based support. Depression, if persistent and unsupported, can lead to more severe symptoms such as suicidal thoughts and should always be taken seriously.

What to do if a child feels life is not worth living

On rare occasions children may feel that life is not worth living, that there is no hope and they may think about not wanting to go on. Children may also struggle to express these feelings and thoughts. Find out more about suicidal feelings and thoughts.

Concerned about a child?

If you are worried that a child is at risk involve your designated safeguarding lead as a matter of priority who will contact the parents/carers and other services as necessary. If the child is at immediate risk, ensure that they are taken to their GP or A&E as a matter of urgency, depending on the severity of the concern.

Find out more


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