Low Mood

Help for child and adolescent low mood and worry

Recognising Depression in Young People

We all feel sad and down sometimes – and children are no different. Sometimes things don’t go our way, or we get hurt, or we lose a loved one.

Depression is more than sadness. Depression affects how people think, how they see themselves and the world. Children can feel sad or irritable, may think that nothing is worthwhile or that things will never get better.

For children and adolescents, symptoms of depression can include negative behaviour such as irritability or whining – it can be easy to feel annoyed and to blame or punish children for their behaviour – without recognising it may be related to low mood. Oppositional and defiant behaviour is sometimes, although not always, related to low mood.

The top issues of concern for young people in Australia are coping with stress, anxiety, school or study problems and body image. The statistics for mental health are serious. Around a quarter of children will be affected by a mental health condition, and it’s important that parents and carers take low mood seriously.

If your child’s mood is affecting their day-to-day functioning, this is a sign that a mental health problem should be investigated. Depression can stop children enjoying the things they normally like doing, or taking part in their usual activities.

If your child is unable to function at school, is losing interest in things they were previously interested in, or is becoming increasing socially isolated, these are important signs that low mood is causing significant impairment.

Symptoms of low mood:

  • difficulties listening and concentrating on tasks
  • making negative comments about themselves
  • low energy
  • focusing on negatives, rather than seeing the positives in situations
  • low motivation
  • loss of interest in activities they usually enjoy
  • appetite changes – less interest in food or overeating
  • sleep changes – problems going to sleep, staying asleep, waking early, or sleeping a lot
  • withdrawing from social situations
  • stops spending time with friends
  • become very difficult to please
  • be irritable, agitated, easily annoyed or upset
  • have meltdowns or anger outbursts
  • appear sad, cry easily

What causes depression?

We don’t fully understand what causes depression, it appears to be a complicated interaction between genetics, the environment and events. When we assess children we often look at ‘risk factors’, the experiences and difficulties faced by the child, and at their ‘protective factors’ – the strengths and resources they have developed, or have access to in order to navigate difficult times. Life is not fair, and some of us face more challenges and adversity than others.

We know that the more risk factors there are, the higher the risk of developing a mental health condition.

We also know that children have different levels of resilience and grit. Different combinations of factors such as temperament, skills, genetics, relationships, life events and personality, as well as access to support all make a difference. Put simply, no two children react the same way to adversity, but all children can benefit from building skills to increase resilience.

Types of depression and mood problems

Depressive Disorders can vary widely. Symptoms are individual, and the types of low mood disorders we see at the Practice include disruptive mood dysregulation, major depressive episodes, persistent low mood (dysthymia), premenstrual dysphoria, and substance induced depression.

The common feature of all of these problems is the presence of sadness, emptiness, or irritable mood. These are most often accompanied by somatic and cognitive changes.

We also work with Bipolar disorders, providing assessment and treatment for Bipolar I, Bipolar II and Cyclothymic Disorders.

We know that no two people are alike, and understanding, via a thorough assessment, exactly what is going on is a critical part of the treatment process. Sometimes mood disorders follow a typical course, and sometimes they have atypical features, or follow a different trajectory. Most often, people experience periods of remission, although the mood disorder may persist without treatment.


Find out more about mood disorders and their treatment in adults.

Read more about our services for children and adolescents.