Depression in Young People
It is normal to feel down and not enjoy things sometimes, but when these feelings are severe, long lasting, or keep coming back and begin to affect your day-to-day life, this may be a sign of depression.
What Is Depression?
Depression is a mental health condition where you feel very down all or most of the time.
All of us will feel sad or low in mood at times; it’s a normal part of being human. But if these feelings continue for a long time and start to make everyday life difficult, then you may be experiencing depression. Doctors sometimes refer to this as clinical depression, major depression, or major depressive disorder (MDD).
Depression can happen to anyone, regardless of age, gender, race, culture, faith or anything else. There isn’t always a clear reason why you begin to experience depression, but sometimes there will be, like if you have gone through difficult life events. For example:
- if you have lost someone you care about and you’re struggling to cope
- if something difficult is going on in your personal life
- if you’re struggling at school, university or work
- if you’re experiencing discrimination, like racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia or transphobia
- if you’re having money troubles or you’re in debt
These are just examples though – the reasons will vary from person to person, and whatever you’re going through, your feelings are valid.
Whatever the reason you are feeling depressed, it is not your fault and you deserve help. Although it can be hard to feel optimistic when you're struggling with your mood, support is available and there are things you can do to feel better.
Symptoms of Depression in Young People
Young people with depression each experience the illness in their own way, but there are some common symptoms:
- Feeling unhappy or miserable most of the time
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Being less able to concentrate and make decisions
- Loss of confidence or self-esteem
- Being too hard on yourself or feeling very guilty
- Feeling low on energy and easily tired
- Trouble sleeping, or sleeping more than usual
- Feeling agitated/on edge or feeling slowed down
- Changes to your appetite or weight
- Thinking about death or any suicidal thoughts or behaviours
- Children with depression may also feel very irritable and short-tempered instead of, or as well as feeling sad. Persistent feelings of hopelessness and that life is not worth living can be a warning sign of severe depression.
- Sometimes with depression you can have other problems such as stomach aches or headaches, feeling anxious, difficulties controlling your behaviour, or you could develop problems with drugs, alcohol and food.
Occasionally young people with depression will not show obvious signs of the condition, but have problems focusing on school or college work, their social life, or their relationships with family and friends.
If you are suffering with depression it can be difficult to talk about how you feel, but it is important to try and get help as soon as possible. Getting help is important whatever your age and can have a positive impact on both yourself and those who care about you.
The first step is to contact your GP or go to see a school counsellor or nurse, who will be able to provide support and treatment locally. Many volunteer groups, like Mind (mind.org.uk) also offer valuable advice. There are many different treatments available including psychological therapies and medication. Learning more about depression and treatments can also be helpful. The treatments you receive will vary depending on the exact type of the illness you have and how severe it is, and also on which types of treatment you and your family prefer.
- Psychoeducation and psychological or “talking” therapies will often be the first treatments recommended. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave. It teaches you ways to cope better with negative thoughts and feelings, and actions you can take to break the cycle of feeling down.
- Interpersonal Therapy (IT) concentrates on improving your relationships with other people in your life. This aims to help resolve some of the stresses that can trigger depression. Family Therapy is another type of treatment that works in a similar way.
- Counselling, where the person with depression discusses their problems and feelings, can also help.
- Creative therapies including art and music are suitable for some people, and there are even some specially designed online games that can help.
- For some young people, especially those dealing with more severe forms of depression, medication also plays an important part. Not all medicines which work well for adults with depression are suitable for young people, but some have been shown to be effective.
Tips for Living with Depression
If you’ve had depression in the past, or have a close family member who has had depression, it’s especially important to get help early. Keep an eye on your mood and watch for the symptoms mentioned earlier.
- Talk to other people you trust about your problems - friends, parents, even teachers or lecturers may be able to help. It can be difficult, but try to be honest about how you feel. Keeping it bottled up can make it worse, and it is important not to feel alone with these problems.
- Try to live a healthy lifestyle - exercising regularly, eating properly and getting a good night’s sleep can make you feel better about yourself, and help with depression.
- Finding ways to deal with stress, for example, using breathing exercises can help with your moods.
- Spend time with friends and family doing things you enjoy. You might not feel like it sometimes, but it can help.
- Avoid alcohol and drugs - it may seem like they help in the short term, but they will only make things much worse.
Tips for Helping a Loved One with Depression
If you’re worried that your child could be depressed, talk to them. Be sure not to trivialise their problems, and remember that issues that seem small to you might be very important to them.
- Encourage them to talk to others - for example school counsellors, their GP or even close friends that they trust. Let them know that it’s ok to talk about feeling low and that help is available.
- If you have suffered with depression yourself in the past, be aware that your child may be more prone to the illness. Watch out for the warning signs, but at the same time remember that a history of depression in the family does not mean they will definitely have problems.
- Spend time with your child doing things you both enjoy. This can help to lift their mood.
- Don’t assume that every small mood change or disagreement is related to depression - some of the symptoms are very similar to the normal behaviour of teenagers, and may just be a normal part of growing up.
Royal College of Psychiatrists - rcpsych.ac.uk
Information on depression in young people including downloadable leaflets, details on treatment and real people’s experiences of depression. Search “depression in young people” from the homepage.
Depression in Teenagers - depressioninteenagers.co.uk
This site presents key facts about depression for young people in an interactive format including quizzes, exercises and audio clips.
Depression Alliance - depressionalliance.org
Help on living with depression, recovery and wellbeing, useful contacts and support for family and friends.
YoungMinds - youngminds.org.uk
This organisation provides information and advice, a guide to mental health services for young people, and information for parents of young people with mental health problems.
Hopeline UK - papyrus-uk.org/more/hopelineuk
This organisation offers telephone support for depression, particularly for children and young adults - especially for those with suicidal thoughts.
StudentMinds - studentminds.org.uk