Depression in young people

– recognising the signs and knowing where to get help

What is depression?

Most people, young people as well as adults, feel low, sad or `blue’ occasionally, this is a normal reaction to experiences that are stressful or upsetting.

When these feelings continue over a period of time, or take over and get in the way of your normal daily life, it can become an illness. This illness is called `depression’.

Depression is one of the most common emotional problems around the world; the good news is that it is also one of the most treatable. In fact, 80% of people who receive treatment for depression go on to have a better quality of life – they feel better and enjoy themselves in a way that they weren’t able to before.

 What are the causes of depression in young people?

There is no one single factor that will lead to the onset of depression, genes and family tendencies can deter whether someone is likely to be more susceptible to depression but there are also many other factors that can act as potential triggers which may prompt depression; one of which is that of the pressure of modern life on young people.

In our modern society, young people are fed information which puts pressure on them to meet needs that are often unrealistic. They are inundated with images as to how they are meant to look, what they are meant to have and how they are meant to behave, all based on the assumption that this is important to life. If young people feel that they do not meet the images that are portrayed to them via the media or peers, they can often feel different, that they are not good enough or disadvantaged which, if not dealt with appropriately, can lead to depression as well as problems with self-esteem, and confidence.

School can be a positive setting for learning, growth and development for many young people but it can also be a place where young people struggle in terms of fitting in, keeping up with a heavy work load, performance pressures and exam stress. Failing an important exam at school can cause great frustration and may lead to depressed feelings.  Bullying is also an issue that unfortunately affects many young people. Bullying can seriously affect a young person’s mental and physical health. It can lead to feelings of anxiety, low self-esteem and poor concentration.  The transition from one school to another or the leaving of school can also act as a trigger for the onset of depression.

Stressful relationships can also act as triggers for depression.  For some young people, a negative, stressful or unhappy family atmosphere can affect their self esteem and lead to depression.  Conflict within the family, divorce or separation leading to a change in living arrangements can lead to feelings of insecurity, guilt, anger, rejection or a sense of loss. Poverty, abuse and violence within the family are also key contributors. Difficulties in making and maintaining friendships or relationships, can lead to low self esteem and a loss of confidence which in turn makes it more difficult for the young person to find someone they feel comfortable with to share their worries.

Other triggers that have been identified in the lives of young people that may lead to the onset of depression include; the loss of a loved one, physical illness of self or a loved one, living with a parent or relative who has depression, being subject to physical or emotional abuse, weight gain, something embarrassing happening or a financial setback.

How to recognise signs of depression in young people

It is not always easy to recognise the signs of depression in young people. Young people face many challenges as they find their way in life but most balance their common troubles with good friendships, success in school or outside activities and develop a strong sense of self. Certain negative behaviours are to be expected, such as occasional bad moods and acting out, however depression is something different. Depression can lead to dramatic long term changes in personality, mood and behaviour.  Certain signs can help to identify whether a young person is suffering from depression, whilst considering these signs it is also important to acknowledge how long the symptoms have been present, their severity and the degree to which the young person is acting in a different manner to his or her usual self. Some signs of depression in young people include:

  • Moodiness and irritability
  • Withdrawing from family, friends and regular activities
  • Changes in sleeping and eating patterns
  • Fatigue and lack of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Tearfulness and frequent crying
  • Feeling guilty or bad, being  self blaming or self critical
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Feeling unhappy, miserable or lonely a lot of the time

If a young person has all or many of these symptoms it may indicate that the young person is depressed.

What to do if a young person is depressed

If you do suspect a young person as having depression, it is important to find support immediately, recovery is much quicker in those who feel supported by those around them whether a family member, friend, counsellor or doctor.

In supporting a young person experiencing depression there are positive steps that you can take to help and provide support. For instance:

  • Encourage them to talk about their feelings making sure that it is clear to the young person that you are willing to provide whatever support is necessary
  • Take an understanding approach and listen carefully to what the young person is saying, if you criticise or pass judgement the young person will feel that you do not take their emotions seriously and will refuse to talk on the matter in the future
  • Avoid comments like, “snap out of it”, “get your act together”  as this can strengthen feelings of self-blame and low self-esteem
  • Learn about depression, the more you know the better equipped you will be to help
  • Research the sources of support that are available, offer to go with them to a doctor’s appointment or to speak to someone else.
  • Encourage the young person t take part in physical activity, exercise such as walking the dog can help alleviate the symptoms of depression
  • It is also important to look after your own mental health. Whilst it is important to be there for a young person, don’t try and cope with everything on your own. Getting help and support will make things easier for both you and your young person.

Treatment available

If you feel that your young person is showing signs that they are depressed, it is important to seek professional help in order for a diagnosis to be made. A doctor will take note of how long the young person has been showing symptoms of depression, the extent to which the symptoms are interfering with their daily life and any changes in behaviour. The doctor will also enquire as to whether or not there is a family history of depression or a mental health disorder. Your doctor may prescribe some medication to ease the young person’s symptoms or recommend other specialist services such as counselling and talking therapies.

Whilst depression can be a difficult condition to live with for the individual and the immediate family and friends, it is important to remember that depression can be treated and individuals have a good chance of making a full recovery when provided with the appropriate treatment and support.

For further information on local organisations and sources of support, contact MensSana, on 02838 392314 or e-mail [email protected]

(Confidentiality will be respected at all times).

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