Depression - Children and young people suffer too!

If you're suffering from depression, you're not alone – nearly 80,000 children and young people suffer from severe depression. One in five people become depressed at some point in their lives.

What is depression?

Most young people experience ups and down during their teenage years and occasionally will feel down or upset by certain things going on in their lives. But some young people feel sad, lonely, down, anxious or stressed for longer periods of time to the extent that it can affect their everyday lives and can prevent that young person from doing things they would normally do. This is known as depression.

Symptoms of depression include:-

- not wanting to do things that you previously enjoyed,
- not wanting to meet up with friends or avoiding situations
- sleeping more or less than normal
- eating more or less than normal
- feeling irritable, upset, miserable or lonely
- being self-critical
- feeling hopeless
- maybe wanting to self-harm
- feeling tired and not having any energy.

One in 10 young people aged 5- 16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health problem, that is three people in every class. Two per cent of children under 12 experience depression, and this rises to five per cent among teenagers which is at least one depressed child in every classroom, so it is not uncommon and adults experience it too – one in 10 adults can experience depression at some point.

Depression can be caused by a reaction to something in your life such as abuse, family breakdown or bullying. Depression may run in your family and be caused by genetic factors or it may be that you are under a lot of stress and feel you have a lack of support.

Depression is not the same as manic depression which is another term for bipolar disorder where people experience extreme highs and lows. For more on manic depression see our section on bipolar disorder. 

Depression is easy to treat if you get help for it.

“Depression left me exhausted even with the simplest of things, getting up in the morning seemed pointless and a painful hassle”.


Talk to someone

The most important thing you can do if you think you are feeling depressed is talk to someone. This could be your parents, a sibling, friend, teacher, GP but often talking about how you are feeling can really help you to feel better. People who care about you will want to help you to feel better so don’t feel worried about talking to people.

If it is something specific that is causing the depression, for example if you are worried about exams, then talking to a teacher may help to reassure you or they may be able to offer practical help such as extra reading to help you feel better about things.

Visit your GP

If you don’t feel comfortable talking to a friend, teacher or your parents, go and see your GP – they are there to help you to feel better whether it is a physical health problem or a mental health problem and there are a number of things that they may suggest for you. Don’t suffer in silence, keeping it all to yourself will only worsen your feelings of anxiety or depression and remember, you’re not the only one to feel like this, other young people – and adults too – experience depression.


There are things you can do to help yourself if you are experiencing depression:-

  • Talk to someone.
  • Get some fresh air most days.
  • Get some regular exercise – there is a proven link between exercise and better mental health.
  • Do things you enjoy whether it is skateboarding, hanging out with friends or reading.
  • Try to eat regularly even if it is small meals.
  • Write a diary about how you are feeling.
  • Remember – you are not the only one to experience depression and you haven’t done anything wrong. People can help so don’t suffer on your own, choose someone you like and trust to talk to.

The treatment you get will depend on the severity of the depression. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) is a body that provides guidance on health issues and it describes depression as mild, moderate or severe.

If the depression is mild, you will probably not be offered medication according to the Nice guidance. The doctor will probably keep an eye on your situation and offer advice on support and diet/exercise to see if that can help the issue without medication.


If the depression is continuing for some time, or considered moderate to severe, your doctor may refer you to your local child and adolescent mental health service (CAMHS). They will assess you and discuss with you what they think is the best kind of treatment for you. This might be cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which is a type of talking therapy and aims to help you understand your thoughts, feelings and behaviour. Alternatively you may be prescribed with a course of antidepressants to help you to feel better but the options will be discussed with you. The Nice guidance recommends that young people do NOT use St John’s wort. This is a herbal medicine but the guidance states that insufficient research has been carried out to check whether it is safe for young people to use it.


Nice says that antidepressants should be given to children and young people only rarely and usually in addition to other help such as therapy. If you have mild depression you shouldn’t be offered antidepressants it is only if you have moderate to severe depression. If you are offered antidepressants they should be Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) and the one you should be given is Prozac (Fluoxetine). If you have side effects, then tell your doctor and you will be offered a different SSRI. Antidepressants take a while to get into your system so if you don’t feel better overnight, don’t despair, give it a couple of weeks and you should start to feel the effects.

If you do not feel better as a result of taking the antidepressants or through the therapy, tell your GP as he/she may offer you a different type of medication or therapy that may help.



Do you Ever Feel Depressed?

Leaflet on depression for young people produced by YoungMinds

Mental Health and Growing Up - Depression in children and young people

A RCPSYCH leaflet

Case study

Sarah talks about depression

A case study from the RCPSYCH website. 


Depression in children and young people NICE guidance 

Top tips

Top tip cards for staying emotionally healthy (male) - YoungMinds 

Top tip cards for staying emotionally healthy (female) - YoungMinds  

CD Rom

Changing minds – depression and self-harm (RCPSYCH) 


Childline – www.childline.org.uk or 0800 1111

Samaritans - www.samaritans.org/ or 08457 909090


www.vik.org.uk/ is a website run by young people for young people about all mental health problems. It is hosted by YoungMinds

www.gonecrazy.org.uk is an online resource for people with mental health problems

www.youthhealthtalk.org  has young people’s experiences of depression 


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