When bad things happen

This information is aimed at young people, and is about how to cope when bad things happen.

If life was always perfect then we’d never develop coping skills or learn what makes us feel better. So dealing with one problem can help us learn how to manage other problems as they crop up, as we then know what works for us.

Having a friend to talk to, having an interest which can distract us from our worries, chilling out by listening to music or surfing the net can all be ways of coping.  


This is information, not advice. Please read our disclaimer.

Bad things happen to everyone. They can make you feel sad and worried, angry and stressed. Life often becomes tough for a while, but learning how to cope is an important skill we all need to have.

If life was always perfect then we’d never develop coping skills or learn what makes us feel better.

So dealing with one problem can help us learn how to manage other problems as they crop up, as we then know what works for us.

Having a friend to talk to, having an interest which can distract us from our worries, chilling out by listening to music or surfing the net can all be ways of coping. What do you do when things are tough?

There are lots of things that can make life tough, often things that are not in your control.

Usually, the difficulty will involve your family, friends, your neighbourhood or school, as these are the people and places that have the most effect on you as you grow older.

Below is a list of the sorts of problems we're talking about:

  • having an ill parent
  • parents who fight and argue a lot
  • losing a parent
  • parents divorcing
  • parents who drink a lot of alcohol or take street drugs
  • parents who are in trouble with the police
  • friends who are in trouble with the police
  • friends who take street drugs
  • your family trying to manage without enough money
  • being exposed to violent behaviour
  • living in an area where you don't feel safe
  • living away from your parents e.g. in foster care or a children's home
  • being bullied
  • being physically or sexually abused

Several of these problems can happen together, which understandably makes it more difficult to cope. 

There are some things specific to you that will affect how you manage in these situations.

These are not things you can change, but they may explain why you might find your situation more difficult than your brother or sister does.

For example, you may have an illness yourself, such as asthma or diabetes, which is an added stress; or you may tend to be a "worrier" rather than someone who is more "easy going".

Neither is better overall, but being more of a worrier may mean you feel more affected by things that happen in your life.

Things that make life difficult are often completely out of your control. But there are things you can do to make them have less of an effect on you.

This doesn't mean managing things on your own, but also sometimes asking for help even outside your family. You could start by confiding in someone you trust.

If that doesn't work you could:

  • spend more time doing something you enjoy and are good at. This may be something you do at school, for example, your favourite subject, or it may be a sport such as football, swimming, or dancing, or another activity like music.
  • use a grown-up outside the close family, such as a teacher, a youth worker, a grandparent or a social worker for support. If you can't think of anyone, your school or local area may provide a mentor.
  • encourage your family to keep doing the things that make you have a happy time together, even if you are all struggling through a difficult situation. This will help you to feel closer and warmer to each other.
  •  think about joining an after-school activity club in your neighbourhood – this will let you have fun safely, and may give you time away from stress at home or with friends. You may also make different friends who may be more supportive.

If you try these ways of helping yourself and you still don't feel any better, or your situation doesn't improve, it may be that it's just too much for you to manage on your own.

Or, it could be that your difficulties are so stressful that they have triggered an illness like depression or anxiety.

Coping with the problems we have mentioned is not easy. It is in no way a sign of weakness if you feel you can't manage on your own; it is more a sign of strength that you know when to ask for help.

The best people to ask for help will be other adults you know. This could mean:

  • your teacher
  • your Head of Year
  • your school nurse
  • a school counsellor or youth worker
  • a family member
  • a family friend.

The adult you confide in will think through your situation with you, and will think about whether other people might be able to help. This might mean help for you, help for your parents, or for the whole family. The people who may become involved include:

  • your GP or practice nurse
  • a local counselling service
  • your local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) – a team of professionals specially trained to work with young people
  • a family social worker.

These people work in different ways to each other, but all will aim to support you and improve the situation for you and your family.

"Everything changed in my life when Sven got sick. We were fine, me, Mum, Sven. Then next thing, he’s in hospital and Mum’s all over the place. He got some sort of cancer. He was only 8.

Suddenly, I had to sort everything out at home. Mum was hardly ever around early on, and even when she was, she wasn’t really. She was really worried. She’d cry a lot too. I did loads more at home to try to help. Washing, buying food and stuff. But it was tough. I was worried too.

At school, they knew something was up. I was late a lot and didn’t get my work done on time. I didn’t get to football practise. Mr Hutchins, my Head of Year, called me in for a chat. He was really helpful. I told him what was going on with Sven. He knew Dad wasn’t around anymore and asked if anyone else could help out a bit. I told him after Nan died, we didn’t really have anyone else. So he saw I had a lot on my plate.

He phoned Mum. He wasn’t interfering, just trying to help. He said they were missing me at football and told her how good I was. Then he said it’d be good for me to go to homework club more; so I could get my work done and she could stay at the hospital with Sven for longer.

They were only little things when you think about it, but they really helped. I could be myself again, playing football, even if it was just for a few hours a week. I wasn’t as behind with my work either. And Mr Hutchins kept an eye on me. I went to see him if I was having a rough day. It was good he knew about Sven; I didn’t have to keep explaining.

Sven's home now. He’s not better yet, but he’s getting there. And he’s so brave about it all, he makes me feel stronger just being with him."

Childline - Provides a 24 hour free and confidential telephone, email and chat service for children and young people. Helpline (24hrs): 0800 1111.

Epic friends - Mental health problems are common. This website is all about helping you to help your friends who might be struggling emotionally.

Samaritans - Offer confidential emotional support to anyone in a crisis. Help lines (24hrs): 08457 909090 (UK), and 1850 609090 (ROI); email: jo@samaritans.org

Teenage Health Freak - Provide web-based, accurate and reliable health.

U Can Cope! How to cope when life is difficult: information for young people, produced by RCPsych, on how to cope when you feel emotionally overwhelmed.


Goodman, R. & Scott, S. (2005) 'Child Psychiatry' (2nd edn). London: Blackwell.

Rutter, M. & Taylor, E. (eds) (2002) 'Child and Adolescent Psychiatry' (4th edn). London: Blackwell.


Revised by the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Child and Family Public Engagement Editorial Board (CAFPEB).

With grateful thanks to Dr Alan Cooklin, Dr Virginia Davies, Dr Vasu Balaguru, and Thomas Kennedy..

This resource reflects the best possible evidence at the time of writing.


About this information

This information reflects the best available evidence at the time of writing. This mental health information for young people was written in 2015.


© 2015 Royal College of Psychiatrists