On top of all the physical and hormonal changes you might be experiencing, being a teenager means you have the added pressure of frequent deadlines, exam stress, and making choices that could have a long-term impact on your future. This could lead to you feeling down, anxious or overwhelmed. All of these emotions, whilst very unpleasant, are fairly normal. However, if you’re experiencing a feeling of helplessness, lengthy periods of feeling more sad than usual, or if you’re starting to think that nothing is worth the effort, there’s a chance that you might be suffering from depression.
Common symptoms of depression
People who suffer from depression often complain of the following:
- a continued and overwhelming feeling of sadness, pessimism or despair
- a lack of energy, feeling unable to do the simplest task
- an inability to enjoy the things that used to bring you pleasure
- a lack of desire to be with friends or family members
- a lack of general motivation
- continued or reoccurring feelings of irritability, anger or anxiety
- an inability to concentrate
- a significant change in sleeping habits, such as trouble falling asleep or getting up
- feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- aches and pains, even though nothing is physically wrong
- a lack of caring about what happens in the future
- frequent thoughts about death or suicide
Not every person experiences every symptom, and some people might experience symptoms for longer than others. Depression effects everyone differently, but if you’re experiencing a number of these symptoms frequently, it’s usually a good idea to talk to someone about it.
How to tell the difference between sadness and depression
The word ‘depression’ is a little overused today, and so you might hear someone describe a film as ‘too depressing’ or complain of ‘feeling depressed’ when they actually feel sad about something. To tell the difference between sadness and depression, you could:
- Monitor the length of time you feel sad - most people with depression will experience continued symptoms for at least two weeks.
- Monitor how severe your emotions are, and whether or not they ease with time. Common causes of sadness, such as bad grades or the death of a loved one, will often ease with time; in comparison, the symptoms of depression will often stay at a constant.
- Try to figure out whether or not your sadness has an obvious cause, and whether or not you have any circular thought patterns. People with depression might not be able to provide an explanation for why they are feeling a certain way, and they frequently experience circular thought patterns.
What are circular thought patterns?
These are reoccurring thoughts that have no obvious cause, and one thought will often lead onto another. These can be bad for your mental health if they’re particularly negative and produce feelings of inadequacy, hopelessness or despair. Here’s an example:
If you’re worried that you might be suffering from depression, it’s a good idea to consider one of the following:
- Talk to an adult you trust – this could be a parent, friend, teacher or someone responsible for pastoral care at your school or college. It might be particularly useful to speak to an adult at school if you feel that your studies are being affected.
- Seek help from a medical health professional - depending on where you are in the world, the process for doing this might be slightly different, but a quick search online should be able to throw up some results. If you’re based in the UK, you can book an appointment with your GP without the supervision of a parent or guardian as long as you’re registered with a medical practice. Your GP will then talk with you and refer you to a specialist if necessary.
How is depression treated?
Depression is usually treated with psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two.
What is psychotherapy?
Psychotherapy (sometimes called ‘talk therapy’) is a technique that can help you identify and manage troubling emotions, thoughts, and behaviour. Psychotherapy can take place in a one-on-one meeting with you and a licensed mental health professional, but sometimes you might be part of a group guided by a mental health professional.
What medications treat depression?
If your doctor thinks you need medicine to treat your depression, he or she might prescribe an antidepressant.
Antidepressants can have side effects. These side effects are usually mild (possible stomach upsets or headaches) and may go away on their own. But talk to your doctor about any side effects that you experience because your doctor might adjust the dose or change the medicine. For more information about side effects, visit www.fda.gov.
Good to know: depression can be successfully treated in more than 80% of people who become depressed.
In the meantime
Be patient and know that treatment takes time to work. Try to:
- Stay active and exercise - even if it’s just going for a walk. Podcasts and audiobooks can help to take your mind off things and can make walking more interesting.
- Keep a regular sleep schedule - see our guide on ‘How to improve your sleep patterns’ for help with this.
- Spend time with friends and family - movies and boardgames are good options if you’re not in the mood for talking.
- Break down school or work tasks into smaller ones and organize them in order of what needs to get done first. Then, do what you can.
What to do if you’re thinking of harming yourself or ending your life
Help and support is available right now if you need it. You don’t have to struggle with difficult feelings alone. Here is a list of suicide hotlines across the world, many of which are open for you to call 24 hours a day.
If you’re from the UK, these free helplines will help you when you feel down or helpless:
Samaritans – for everyone
Call 116 123
Papyrus – for people under 35
Call 0800 068 41 41 – Monday to Friday 10am to 10pm, weekends 2pm to 10pm, bank holidays 2pm to 5pm
Text 07786 209697
Childline – for children and young people under 19
Call 0800 1111 – the number won't show up on your phone bill
You can also contact Childline by going on their website and using the 1-2-1- counsellor online chat service. Alternatively, you can send them an email through the website.