Understanding depression

We all have moments when we feel unhappy; it's a normal response to unpleasant events. Clinical depression tends to be more severe than simple unhappiness, and it lasts longer. Learn how to recognise depression and deal with it here.

Girl looking sad with window behind her

Is it depression? Or are you just sad?

Do I have depression or am I just sad?

It’s totally normal to get down and have days when you feel really rubbish, and that doesn’t necessarily mean you have depression. Depression is when these negative feelings won’t go away and affect your day to day life.

People with depression can feel hopelessly sad. Sometimes it is even possible to be depressed without having the usual ‘miserable’ feelings. There are lots of different signs which may point to clinical depression – the main ones are listed below. Most depressed people only suffer from a few of these feelings and bear in mind depression is different in everyone.

Signs of depression

You may have noticed a change in the way you’re responding or feeling about things. The following points can be indications that it could be depression:

  • Persistent sadness, lasting two weeks or more
  • Loss of interest in your favourite things
  • Finding no fun or enjoyment in life
  • Loss of self-confidence
  • Feeling guilty, bad, unlikeable, or not good enough
  • Feeling empty inside
  • Feeling useless or unable to cope with life
  • Feeling bored all the time
  • Increased feelings of anxiety
  • Can’t see a future for yourself
  • Thinking everything is pointless
  • Thinking life is not worth living
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Wanting to go to sleep and never wake up again
  • Especially low mood in the mornings
  • Feeling more irritable, frustrated, or aggressive than usual
  • Trouble concentrating on things, poor memory

Other signs

Other factors may include:

  • Loss of energy, tired all the time
  • Changed sleep pattern – difficulty getting to sleep, bad nightmares, waking in the night, waking up too early, or sleeping much more than usual
  • Spending less time socialising with friends or family
  • Loss of sexual desire
  • Changed eating pattern – loss of appetite and weight loss, or comfort eating
  • Getting lower grades than usual at school, college, or university
  • Not going to school/college/work, or becoming disruptive
  • Becoming a hypochondriac, worrying lots about illness
  • More headaches, backaches or stomach aches than you normally get
  • Turning to alcohol or drugs to try to make yourself feel better

Where can I get help?

If you recognise some of these symptoms, or if you’re having feelings you can’t cope with, the best thing to do is contact your GP. If you’re worried about this, you could take a friend or family member with you for support.

If you just need someone to talk to, you can call Samaritans on 116 123 or SANEline on 0300 304 7000. They won’t judge, and your conversation will be confidential.

You can also talk to other young people about any problems you have on our community boards.


Depression is a treatable condition. Many people make a full recovery without treatment, but treatment makes recovery happen more quickly. Talk to your doctor about what is best for you.

  • Antidepressant drugs work by boosting natural brain chemicals levels which can take a nose-dive during depression. Give at least two weeks for antidepressants to kick in, but go back to your doctor if there’s no change after four to six weeks.
  • Counselling can help you get to grips with the root of your depression. Your doctor can recommend a psychotherapist or self-help group.
  • Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) teaches you to question negative thoughts while developing a more realistic outlook on life.
  • Relaxation techniques can help beat the stress and anxiety often linked to depression. Try exercise, yoga, meditation or massage.
  • A change of lifestyle can help. Reduce your workload, cut out ‘props’ like alcohol and drugs, and improve your exercise and nutrition habits.

Why am I depressed?

Depression can be caused by factors like bereavement, events in childhood, stress and relationship difficulties, or internal problems linked to hormone imbalance, changes in brain chemistry or blood sugar levels. Recreational drug use and binge drinking are also common triggers.

However, unlike feelings of grief or sadness, feelings of depression can often feel difficult to explain. “Because depression has no specific cause, it can lead to blaming yourself and feelings of failure” says Helen Cleather from SANE “but it’s not your fault.”

Next Steps

  • Mind offers advice and support to people with mental health problems. Their helpline runs nine to six from Monday to Friday. 0300 123 3393
  • SANE offers support and information to people affected by mental illness. Call their helpline on 0300 304 7000, open 4:30pm - 10:30pm every day.
  • Anyone can contact the Samaritans on their 24-hour helpline to talk things through. 116 123
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.


Updated on 29-Sep-2015