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 ‘depression’.
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 disorder.
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.