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Depression and low mood (young people)

Messages to parents and carers

Parents and carers (for example when under aged and not living at home) often played a big part in young people’s lives and experiences with depression. They often worried a lot for their children and found it difficult to know how to best help them. Here, young people pass on their messages to parents, carers and others who may want to know how to best support people going through difficult times with depression or low mood.

“Be there for us”

Most of all, young people wanted their parents, carers or other close adults to be present and “to be there” for them, if and when they wanted to talk. For parents to show their care and concern was important and reassuring. Many people emphasised that even if they didn’t always react to their parents’ expression of concern, it didn’t mean they hadn’t noticed and been reassured by it.
People also hoped for their parents to be patient and to give them time. They said that if they knew their parents were willing and able to support them, they would go to them when they felt ready. They didn’t want to be “pushed” or “forced” as it only made them withdraw. It was important to young people that the choice of how and when to rely on parents, was theirs. Even when people had come to a point where they were able to receive help and to start getting better, they wanted their parents to realise that changing things could take a long time and not put pressure on them to change overnight.
 

“Just be there and just let them know you care”.

“Just be there and just let them know you care”.

Age at interview: 17
Sex: Female
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Just be there for people. But don’t force it, if people are in a good enough place with themselves to talk to you, and say that something’s wrong, then you should feel honoured because it’s not an easy thing to do. But if they won’t talk to you don’t take it personally, it’s not that they don’t love you, it’s not that they don’t care for you, it’s that right now they can’t deal with the conversation. And don’t pry, because the worst thing you can do is go up to someone and go, “What’s wrong, what’s wrong, what’s wrong?” ‘Cos that will just make them feel so much worse. Just let them know you’re there for them if they need you. And that even if it’s just watching a soppy film and eating lots of chocolate, you know, it doesn’t have to be a deep conversation, just let them know that you care. And don’t feel offended if they don’t respond in the way that they used to or that you hoped they would, it’s not personal, they do love you, and they do care. It’s just too difficult.
 

“Make it so you’re there to help and they can come to you”.

“Make it so you’re there to help and they can come to you”.

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Mandy' Just be open, just say to them you know, I don’t like you doing it, I know that’s your way of coping at the moment.
 
Sian' I’d rather you come and talk to me if you’re doing but if you are going to do it then,
 
Mandy' You know I’m here if you need help sort of thing. Make it so you’re there to help them, and not to judge them, that if they need help they can come to you.
 

Don’t give up trying to talk to them. They will talk when they are ready. (Read by an actor).

Don’t give up trying to talk to them. They will talk when they are ready. (Read by an actor).

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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It depends on what day you catch them. If my Mum will catch me on a day when I just, I just close down, I don’t wanna anything, I don’t wanna say it, so it’s kind of sometimes you have to keep trying. Like you know, like Monday to Saturday they might not want to talk about it, but maybe on Sunday around the dinner table they’ll say something, so it’s, you just have to try and I think parents should try.
 
And , and it’s not that they don’t care but sometimes I think they don’t know what to do so they get quite, they just leave it, the kid to it and it’s probably not the best option, as much as it might seem like they can cope with it, if you think you can’t cope with it then they probably can’t cope with it, so, it’s probably just, at least offer help and if they don’t take it then try and build up the trust so that the next time you offer it they can take it.
“Don’t patronise us”
 
Being treated with respect was important to young people. They said parents getting angry or upset about their low mood or self-harm, for example, wasn’t helpful, but just made young people feel worse. They felt better able to trust and respond when their parents were “calm”, “open” and “honest” with them. One woman pointed out that building open communication in the family was a long process and something which needed to be put in place very early on. She said then she could feel safe to speak to her parents about anything.
Young people also suggested that their parents tried to appreciate what they were going through by putting themselves in young people’s position. They simply said that treating them the way parents would’ve wanted to be treated themselves was the best way forward.
 

“Speak to them as young adults, not children.”

“Speak to them as young adults, not children.”

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Male
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To parents I would say, don’t shut them out. First and foremost do not shut them out. Do not shout. Do not raise your voice. Don’t be a parent basically. Just don’t see them as your little boy or little girl. Because if you see it like that you’re treating them like a child, you’re talking down to them, and you’re just being for want of a better word, ignorant. You know just ask them what’s wrong. Sit down with them, you know, knock on their bedroom door, go in, sit down with them. Say, go, “Is there anything you want me to help you with?” Shut the bedroom door. Just, I don’t know, don’t, don’t do it, you know, don’t call them downstairs into the living room, when you know both the parents are sat there and it’s like you’re under interrogation, only do one parent at a time.
 
I don’t know you know, if say, I know there’s a lot of divorces and what not, but if you’ve got both parents in the home, if the young person is closer to the Mum, speak to the mum. If it’s the Dad, speak to the Dad, and then if it’s closer to the Mum the Mum can tell the Dad, or the parent they are closer to can tell the other parent, and speak through it as an adult thing.
 
Speak to them as a young adult, as you would want to be spoken to yourself, do not down talk them, do not raise your voice, just keep calm, flat and just sit on the edge of their bed and just say, “Look what’s wrong?” You know, don’t mollycoddle them don’t be you know, you know don’t be harsh, but don’t be too sympathetic.
 
You know it’s, it is very difficult but if you if you can strike that right note because as, I mean you know your child better than anyone else. They might think they know themselves better, but you probably do, just sit down and talk to them and just don’t shout at ‘em and don’t you know be, “Oh are you okay? Tell…” You know don’t be whisper, just talk to them going, “Are you alright? What’s up then?” You know, just keep it simple, just one parent in the room at a time, leave the TV on, ‘cos then they’ve got the choice of, “Oh, well I’ll just watch TV instead.” But if they see you, still sat there, if they turn round to the TV and start watching the TV, or laptop, or computer or DVD, music or whatever it is, they go round there, just say to them, “Look if you’re not happy to talk at the moment, then you just know that we will always be here for you at any time of day or night, if you want to talk then we’re here.”
 
And just stay there for five minutes. If they’re still in the TV leave them alone for a half an hour, and just keep checking up on ‘em, ‘cos then they know they’ve got their support. And they know that they’re loved, and the road to recovery starts there.
 

You need an open relationship with your children so that they feel they can trust to tell you...

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You need an open relationship with your children so that they feel they can trust to tell you...

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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It’s definitely you need a much more open relationship with your kids so that if you’re having a bad day, or if they’re having a bad day, someone can say it, it doesn’t have to be kind of just like suppressed.
 
Or they don’t, if they don’t feel that they can say it.
 
It’s as long as you kind of show that you concerned and you care and you want them to get help, and you’re willing to help them get that help that they need, then, I think that if a problem gets terrible, like if a kids just starting a problem, then they should be able, they should feel that they can go and speak to their parents about, but if you’ve done all that and you just still feel that they might not tell you then the best thing to do is just confront, because if you’ve already built up the point, if you’ve built up the kind of, “You can trust me, we have this communication,” even if they don’t take the initiative and start that conversation, then you can go in and do it, and it won’t just come out of the blue if you’ve always put that in place.

“Accept the problem – don’t judge”
Some people said it had been hard for their parents to accept their children were going through difficult experiences or found it hard to admit they had mental health problems. However, for parents to accept that there was a problem, was really important for young people as it made them feel “validated” and that they were “taken seriously”. Some said that “denying” the problem, or “underestimating” constant low moods as “a typical teenage thing” could allow things to progress and get worse. “Shouting”, “getting angry” or belittling the problems worked against young people’s best interest.
 

“Shouting or judging is not going to help.”

“Shouting or judging is not going to help.”

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Mandy' I think yeah, parents be supportive. don’t try and put too much pressure on them, they can’t snap out of it.
 
Frankie' Don’t judge them. Don’t judge child.
 
Mandy' Don’t shout at them, or say you’re disappointed if you discover they self harm because that that,
 
Frankie' that’s not gonna help.
 
Sian' Doesn’t help it just makes you feel ten times worse.
 
Mandy' Yeah, just be supportive. 
 
 

“You can’t stop teenagers being so crazy and upset, yet so high and really awesome so you’ve got...

“You can’t stop teenagers being so crazy and upset, yet so high and really awesome so you’ve got...

Age at interview: 17
Sex: Male
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Seriously just find out what’s wrong, and just think like what, think of yourself in their position and just think, what would be the best thing I could ever hope for in that position. And I don’t know it’s , and don’t ever think, don’t, I mean as I say a lot of people think teenagers they’re just , they just exaggerate and stuff like that but obviously a lot of people can blame it on hormones if they really want to but, you can make a massive rapid change.
 
Not only does education mess it all up, but, there is a reason why you know people can’t control teenagers because I don’t know they’re going through such a weird phase and you’ve just got to be there for them. You know obviously it’s like that saying if you can’t, if you can’t beat them join them or something like that, and it’s obvious that they can’t stop teenagers being so crazy and so upset yet so high and really awesome, and so you’ve just got to be there for them really.
Some young people said it didn’t help if parents were trying to find someone to “blame” or to be “guilty”. It was important for young people to be able to feel that experiencing depression or low mood was okay and acceptable, and not their fault. Some worried about opening up to their parents because they felt their parents might blame themselves, which young people felt didn’t help the situation.
 
A couple of young people said their parents had always been “a step ahead” and very much attuned to what was going on. They said their parents had realised things weren’t right before they did. Young people advised parents to be aware of mental health problems and to “keep an eye” on their children.
 

Accepting depression is not saying you aren't good parents. (Read by an actor).

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Accepting depression is not saying you aren't good parents. (Read by an actor).

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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And it’s kind of, if someone’s like self harm or eating, or obsessive behaviours kind of become apparent, then it’s probably much more of a problem than you think it is because it’s, you know, if my parents had kind of, I think if they’d accepted that there was a problem, and, it’s sometimes it’s hard to accept it because it’s kind of, it’s not saying anything bad about parenting skills, it’s not saying that you’re not a good parent, but I think parents are scared of accepting it because it kind of, they don’t want people to think they weren’t good parents, and sometimes it’s nothing to do with the parents, so parents…
 
I think they need to, kind of you know you accept that your kid likes or doesn’t like something, you know they, they like music, they don’t like music, they like English, they don’t like English, they like Maths, they don’t like Maths. It’s kind of you should accept if you if your, if a kids like suffering from depression, they either are or aren’t, and if they are you need to support them. And it’s kind of, you can’t just say that they, oh they’re not, they’re not, they’re okay. Because it’s kind of, it can get worse, like if you do like if someone starts to cope through self harm or eating disorders or you know drugs or alcohol, whatever, it will just become another problem.
 

Parents easily blame themselves and don’t appreciate the time it takes for things to change for...

Parents easily blame themselves and don’t appreciate the time it takes for things to change for...

Age at interview: 18
Sex: Female
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I mean I’ve seen people that have come from really happy families, that have got really good school life, and yet they’re still quite depressed, and there isn’t any particular reason for it sometimes. Sometimes it just happens. And the parents are thinking well, it’s the fault, it’s this problem or it’s that problem. Or to be overpowering, I mean I know people that have self harmed and their parents have gone round and removed all the knives from the house, or anything sharp and thought well if I remove it then it will stop. And I think some people underestimate the time it takes to stop. I mean the self harm thing went on for a good couple of years and it’s, you know, like smoking it’s an addiction, and just saying, “Right I want it to stop now, and that’s it.” It doesn’t really work like that I’m afraid.    
 

Last reviewed June 2017.

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