Most people experience ups and downs and it is normal to feel sad, lonely, down or stressed some of the time, particularly when we are facing challenges in our lives. Generally these feelings pass quite quickly.

Although people will often say they are depressed, having a down day or feeling sad or disappointed after difficult events is not the same as depression. Depression is an illness and is normally diagnosed by a doctor or other medical professional. Children and young people can experience depression just like adults, in fact it is thought that around ten percent of teenagers will experience depression at some point.

Struggling to enjoy things, and feeling sad or low for longer periods of time to the extent that it is affecting everyday life – school, work, friends and relationships for example – can be a sign of depression.

It is important to remember that depression is not a sign of weakness and cannot be ‘willed away’ – it is a treatable illness, so talking to someone and asking for help is essential.

What causes depression?

Depression can be caused by lots of different things. It could be a reaction to stressful events such as bullying, family break-up or difficult relationships, the loss of a friend or family member, exam pressure, homelessness, questioning sexuality or experiencing abuse.

Depression can run in families and be linked to genetic or environmental factors, it can occur when people are under a lot of stress and don’t feel supported, and sometimes there is no obvious reason for feeling depressed and it doesn’t have to be caused by anything bad that has happened.

Depression affects people in different ways. Some people experience physical symptoms such as feeling tired or restless and losing interest in food. Depression can also make it hard to focus and can lead to negative and hopeless thoughts and feeling like things will never get better. Depression can happen suddenly, or it can build up over a longer period of time.

Signs and symptoms that someone is depressed might include:

  • Feeling sad, low or hopeless most of the time
  • Not wanting to do things you used to enjoy
  • Feeling unmotivated and losing interest in things
  • Feeling guilty, worthless or bad about yourself
  • Feeling lonely, isolated and miserable
  • Being grumpy, uptight and irritable with yourself and others
  • Being very critical of yourself and others
  • Dwelling on negative thoughts
  • Feeling numb
  • Feeling tired and low energy all the time, even after rest
  • Unexplained physical symptoms such as aches, pains and loss of appetite
  • Problems with sleeping
  • Eating more or less than normal
  • Not wanting to go to school or work, struggling to leave the house
  • Not wanting to see people, avoiding social situations and withdrawing from friends and family
  • Using drugs, alcohol or self-harm to feel better

Sometimes people feel so bad this leads them to thoughts of ending their own life, if you are feeling like this or are worried about a friend or family member, remember there is help for you.

Please talk to someone you trust or tell your doctor, teacher/pastoral support, youth worker or other professional. You can also contact Childline, the Samaritans or  Papyrus for support and someone to talk to.  In a crisis go to your local A&E or call 999.

Talking to someone about how you are feeling is the most important thing. This could be a parent or other family member, a friend, teacher, school nurse, youth worker, sports coach, counsellor, your doctor or an online service such as 

Just talking about things can help you to feel better, and it may also help you to ask for professional support if you need it.

Depression is a treatable illness, so it is important to visit your GP/family doctor. You can take a friend or family member with you if this helps – see Docready to help you prepare for talking to your GP.

There are a number of treatments your doctor may suggest, depending on how severe the depression is. These could include advice on diet, sleep and exercise, a referral to talking therapies or medication such as anti-depressants. Medication is only likely to be offered if your depression continues for a long time, and for some people it can be very effective, especially if it is offered alongside psychological therapy. Keep in mind that if you are prescribed medication you should see your doctor regularly so they can monitor your mood and check you don’t have any side effects. For more information about medication for depression see Headmeds

See Getting Help for information about local support services in Cornwall and IoS.

How can I help myself?

If you are experiencing depression there are also things you can do to help yourself feel better. These could include:

  • Talking about your feelings
  • Writing feelings down or keeping a journal
  • Trying to do things you used to enjoy, even if you don’t feel like it – seeing friends, attending a youth group, reading, playing sports, walking the dog, playing music or singing, cooking, doing something creative or watching your favourite TV shows for example. Setting goals and writing them down can be a useful way to motivate yourself to do this.
  • Joining safe online forums such as Kooth, The Mix or Childline – where you can share experiences with other young people
  • Spending time outdoors and taking some regular exercise – there is lots of evidence to suggest that this can help to improve mood.
  • Taking care of yourself – eating healthily, avoiding drugs and alcohol, making time for relaxation or mindfulness activities.
  • Sticking to daily routines as much as possible even if this is tough and you feel tired – going to school/work, trying to eat regularly, going to bed and getting up at normal times. Missing school or avoiding social situations may feel better in the short term, but over time this can increase feelings of loneliness and worthlessness, leading to a ‘downward spiral’.

See our Healthy Mind section for more ideas on how to boost your mood and wellbeing.

Myth buster #1

Myth: People with depression can ‘snap out of it’

Fact: You wouldn’t expect someone to cure a physical illness with positive thinking and willpower alone, depression is no different. It is an illness that needs treating – with the right therapies, support and (sometimes) medication people get better.

Myth buster #2

Myth: Depression is the same as being sad

Fact: Sadness is a normal emotion that comes and goes. People with depression might feel sad, but they also experience a whole range of difficult physical and mental symptoms that can include hopelessness, anxiety, extreme tiredness, no motivation or enjoyment, problems with sleep, eating and concentration, and frightening and negative thoughts.

See this short animation for an insight into what depression can feel like

Useful resources

The Mix

For expert advice, videos, Q & A, tips and chat with other young people

 Young Minds

For more detailed information about depression and low mood

Need help now?

If you need to speak to someone urgently call your GP or family doctor!


Childline up to 19yrs : 0800 1111
The Samaritans: 116 123
In an emergency go to A&E or call 999

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