What is depression?
Feeling sad is a normal reaction to
experiences that are stressful or upsetting. However, when these
feelings go on and on, take over your usual self and interfere with
your whole life, it can become an illness. This illness is called
A young person with depression may experience
major problems not only with how they feel, but also with how they
behave. This may cause difficulties at home and at school, as well
as in relationships with family and friends. Some young people
start taking risks.
These can include missing school, harming
themselves (for example by cutting), misusing drugs or alcohol, and
having inappropriate sexual relationships. Sometimes young people
with depression may even try to kill themselves.
At the extreme end of depression, a small
number of young people may develop ‘psychotic’ symptoms that may
include very unusual and sometimes unpleasant thoughts and
experiences like hearing voices. A small number of young people
also have periods of high mood, known as ‘mania’, along with
periods of low mood. They may be suffering from bipolar affective
How common is it?
Depression is thought to occur in about 1-3%
of children and young people. Anybody can suffer from depression
and it affects people of all ages, ethnicities, and social
backgrounds. It is more common in older adolescents, particularly
teenage girls, but can affect children of any age.
How do I know if I have depression?
Some of the symptoms you are suffering from
- being moody and irritable - easily upset, ‘ratty’ or
- becoming withdrawn - avoiding friends, family and regular
- feeling guilty or bad, being self-critical and self-blaming -
- feeling unhappy, miserable and lonely a lot of the time
- feeling hopeless and wanting to die
- finding it difficult to concentrate
- not looking after your personal appearance
- changes in sleep pattern: sleeping too little or too much
- feeling tired
- not interested in eating, eating little or too much
- suffering aches and pains, such as headaches or
- feeling you are not good looking.
If you have all or most of
these signs and have had them over a long period of time, it may
mean that you are depressed. You may find it very difficult to talk
about how you are feeling.
What causes depression?
There is no specific cause for depression. It is usually caused
by a mixture of things, rather than any one thing alone such
- or personal experiences can be a trigger. These include family
breakdown, the death or loss of someone you love, neglect, abuse,
bullying and physical illness.
- Depression can start if too many changes happen in your life
- You are more likely to suffer from depression if you are under
a lot of stress, have no one to share their worries with.
- Depression may run in families and can be more common if you
already suffer from physical illness or difficulties.
- Depression seems to be linked with chemical changes in the part
of brain that controls mood.
What can I do if I am feeling low?
You can try a few things to see if it helps
you feel better.
Simply talking to someone you trust, and who
you feel understands, can lighten the burden. It can also make it
easier to work out practical solutions to problems. For example, if
you feel unable to do your homework, letting your family and
teachers know can be helpful for you to get some support to
complete your work.
Here are some things to try:
- talk to someone whom you trust and can help
- try to do some physical activity and eat healthy food
- try to keep yourself occupied by doing activities, even if you
feel you do not really enjoy them
- try not to stay all alone in your room, especially during the
- don't overstress yourself and allow for fun and leisure
Where can I get help?
How parents/family and teachers can
When you have depression, you may feel ashamed
and guilty of the way you are. You may worry about upsetting others
especially family, or being told you are making it up or blamed it
is your fault by telling them how you feel. It can also be very
hard to put your feelings into words. However, many young people in
same situation feel sense of relief at being understood once they
have talked about it. Letting others know about how you feel is
important for getting the right help and support.
When should I get more
Many young people will get better on their own
with support and understanding. If the depression is dragging on
and causing serious difficulties, it's important to seek treatment.
Sometimes when you are feeling low, you may think or try to use
drugs or alcohol to forget your feelings. You may see no hope and
feel like running away from it all. Doing this only makes the
situation worse. When this happens it is important that you let
others know and get help.
Where can I get help?
Your GP, or sometimes school nurse, will be
able to advise you about what help is available and to arrange a
referral to the local child and adolescent mental health service
(CAMHS). They will see you and your family and discuss what is the
right treatment for you.
How is depression treated?
When the depression is not very bad, which
means you are still able to do your daily activities like going to
school, you may find psychological therapies also called talking
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is one of
these which is effective for treating depression.
Other talking therapies which can be helpful.
These can be family therapy and interpersonal therapy, both of
which may be available from your CAMHS service.
When your depression is severe and has been
going on for long time, you may find it difficult to even talk
about it. In this situation, medications can help to lift your
Medications called ‘antidepressants’ are
usually used for this condition. They need to be prescribed by
specialist child and adolescent psychiatrists after a careful
assessment. If you are given medication, you may need physical
health check-up beforehand, and then you will need regular
check-ups once you have started on the medication.
Medications are usually given for few months
and sometimes may need to be taken for a longer time. It is
important that if you are prescribed medication that you take it
the way it has been prescribed for you ( i.e the right dose and
Remember you are not alone -
depression is a common problem and can be overcome.
Sarah's story, aged 15
"I was 15. They took me to see the doctor because they thought I
was a bit down and I had started cutting. I hadn’t noticed much,
cutting made me feel better and I just felt they were having a bit
of a go really. It was only when I started to talk more, that I
started to realise how much I had changed, I used to be happy, not
all the time, but I couldn’t now - not like I used to.
I was falling out with my teachers - they said I wasn’t getting
on with work and it made me cross. I was trying but I just couldn’t
get on with it not like I did in year 8 and 9. The doctor said it
could be my concentration. I hadn’t thought of that I just thought
I was thick.
Then when he asked about other things, I started to see, I
couldn’t sleep properly and didn’t feel like going out to play
football anymore. I said it was just boring, but as I started to
feel better, I did play again and I think saying it was boring was
all part of my depression. That was the same with my family, I mean
you don’t get on all time do you and they are still a pain
sometimes now, but when I was depressed it was like we were always
arguing, I just couldn’t talk to them and they just wound me
It wasn’t till they talked to me and things started to change,
that was when I looked back and realised how depressed I was."