What is depression?

We all have moments when we feel low or unhappy; it's nothing to feel ashamed of and it's just a part of life. Clinical depression tends to be more severe than a down day, and it often lasts longer. Learn how to recognise depression and deal with it here.

A young person sits on their sofa wearing a red t-shirt and headphones; they are looking at their phone and smiling

Do I have depression or am I just sad?

It’s totally normal to get down and have days when you feel really rubbish. 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 that can 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.

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.”

Signs of depression

You may have noticed a change in the way you’re responding or feeling about things. The following points can be signs of 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

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.

Treatments

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.


How do I cope with depression?

When you’re low, you might just want to crawl under your duvet and stay there the whole day. Things like exams, your friends, your family and work, may feel too huge for you to cope with, but that’s nothing to do with your ability – it’s the depression talking.

Once you’ve seen your doctor you can begin to think about how to cope with depression in your daily life. Try to slowly build these things into your routine. Here are some ideas about how to deal with depression

Eat healthily

It may taste amazing, but eating loads of junk food will make you feel rubbish. Try to eat lots of fruit and veg. You never know, getting creative in the kitchen could be therapeutic in itself.

Get some sleep

Depression can affect your sleep a lot. You may have trouble getting off, or seem to be sleeping all the time. Whichever it is, keep a record of your sleeping patterns and tell your GP if there’s a problem.

Spend time with people

Locking yourself away won’t help, instead you should “aim not to feel alone,” according to Helen Cleather from SANE. This means looking to your family and friends for support.

Cut down on drugs and booze

Alcohol, drugs, and even lots of caffeine, could make your depression worse.

Wear something that makes you feel good

Dressing up in something fun, expressive and colourful can cheer you up. There’s no need to worry about your appearance, but it might help you feel more like yourself.

Get some exercise

Try to find something active that you enjoy and start small, maybe a 20-minute jog, then build up to a longer routine.

Mindfulness

Practise being aware of your thoughts and the world around you. Doing it every day can have a really positive impact on your mental health. We have a more detailed article about it here.

How do I cope with depression during my exams?

When you’re depressed it’s easy to get apathetic and tell yourself you’re a failure, which isn’t great during exam time. Try to remember you’re NOT a failure; it’s just your depression making you FEEL like a failure.

Don’t stop looking after yourself during this time. Eat well, try and get some quality sleep and talk to people about how you’re feeling, then try and do some revision.

Just do what you can. Start by spending an hour or so revising a day then build it up to two hours, and so on. Revision can be overwhelming, but instead of thinking about how much you need to learn focus on just building revision into your daily routine.

It’s also really important you tell your school or university you have depression. You may be able to get extra time or extended deadlines for coursework. “Have regular meetings with your tutor or teacher,” says Helen. “Or use your university counselling service.”

Depression is affecting my relationships

Instead of letting depression affect your relationships, talk to your friends, family or partner about how you’re feeling. They’ll probably be able to relate to a lot of the things you’re going through. They may be thinking: ‘I should be out enjoying myself because everyone else is’, just like you.

Read our article about mental health and romantic relationships.

“It may feel scary to talk about your depression at first, but when people start talking about mental health it becomes less taboo,” says Helen.

How do I cope with depression at work

Depression doesn’t have to be a barrier to healthy working life and it’s important that you let your colleagues know when you might need support. We have an in-depth article for you about mental health at work.

For further support

If you’re struggling to cope with depression, know that you’re not alone and we’re here for you. Contact our team who are there to offer confidential advice and support on any issue.

Next Steps

  • If you're under 25 and would like free confidential telephone counselling from The Mix to help you figure things out complete this form and we'll call you to arrange your first session.
  • 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.

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Updated on 16-Jun-2020