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Depression in children and young
Factsheet for young people
About this factsheet
This is one in a series of factsheets for parents, teachers andyoung people entitled Mental Health and Growing Up
. The aimsof these factsheets are to provide practical, up-to-dateinformation about mental health problems (emotional,behavioural and psychiatric disorders) that can affect childrenand young people. This factsheet looks at how to recognisedepression, and what you can do to help yourself or someoneelse who is suffering from depression.
that you are depressed. You may find it verydifficult to talk about how you are feeling.
What is depression?
Most people, children as well as adults, feel low
What causes depression?
or ‘blue’ occasionally. Feeling sad is a normal
Depression is usually caused by a mixture of
reaction to experiences that are stressful or
things, rather than any one thing alone.
Events or personal experiences
can be a
dominate and interfere with your whole life, it
trigger. These include family breakdown, the
can become an illness. This illness is called
death or loss of a loved one, neglect, abuse, bul-
‘depression’. Depression probably affects one in
lying and physical illness. Depression can also
every 200 children under 12 years old and two
be triggered if too many changes happen in your
People are more at risk of becoming
What are the signs of depression?
depressed if they are under a lot of stress, have
• Being moody and irritable – easily upset, ‘ratty’
no one to share their worries with, and lack
• Becoming withdrawn – avoiding friends, family
Depression may run in
families due to genetic factors. It is also more
• Feeling guilty or bad, being self-critical and
common in girls and women compared to boys.
• Feeling unhappy, miserable and lonely a lot of
Depression seems to be linked with chemical
changes in the part of brain that controls mood.
These changes prevent normal functioning of thebrain and cause many of the symptoms of
• Not looking after your personal appearance• Changes in sleep pattern: sleeping too little or
Where can I get help?
There are a lot of things that can be done to help
• Frequent minor health problems, such as
you trust, and who you feel understands, can
• Some people believe they are ugly, guilty and
lighten the burden. It can also make it easier to
work out practical solutions to problems. For
If you have all or most of these signs and have
example, if you are stressed out by exams, you
had them over a long period of time, it may mean
should talk to your teacher or school counsellor.
MENTAL HEALTH AND GROWING UP FACTSHEET 34
If you are worried about being pregnant, you
young people under the age of 18 and should
should go and see your general practitioner or
only be used by child and adolescent psychiatrists,
family planning clinic. Here are some things to
after a careful assessment. Weekly monitoring
of how the young person is feeling will happen
in the first 4 weeks, and then regularly after that.
• keep as active and occupied as possible, but
• you are not alone – depression is a common
Sources of further information
• ‘Changing Minds: Mental Health: What it is,
What to do, Where to go?’ A multi-media
How parents and teachers can help
It can be very hard for young people to put their
feelings into words. You can help by asking
• Childline provides a free and confidential
sympathetically how they are feeling, and
telephone service for children. Helpline: 0800
• The Samaritans provide a 24-hour service
When specialist help is needed
offering confidential emotional support toanyone who is in crisis. Helplines 08457 909090
If the depression is dragging on and causing
serious difficulties, it’s important to seek
treatment. Your general practitioner will be ableto advise you about what help is available and to
• YoungMinds provides information and advice
arrange a referral to the local child and
Many young people will get better on their
own with support and understanding. For thosewhose symptoms are severe and persistent, the
Or you may want to look at these websites:
National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE;
www.nice.org.uk) recommends that the young
person is treated initially with a psychological
therapy, such as cognitive–behavioural therapy
• The Mental Health and Growing Up
for 3 months. CBT is a type of talking
contains 36 factsheets on a range of common
treatment that helps someone understand their
mental health problems. To order the pack,
thoughts, feelings and behaviour (see Royal
contact Book Sales at the Royal College of
College of Psychiatrists Factsheet on CBT;
Psychiatrists, 17 Belgrave Square, London
should only be
used with a psychological therapy such as CBT.
Antidepressant medication needs to be taken
download them from www.rcpsych.ac.uk.
for 6 months after the young person feels better.
Mild depression should not be treated withantidepressants, but instead with general help and
support (see Royal College of Psychiatrists’
Carr, A. (ed.) (2000) What Works with Children and
Factsheet on antidepressants; www.rcpsych.ac.uk).
Adolescents? A Critical Review of Psychological
There is evidence that some antidepressants
Interventions with Children, Adolescents and their
called SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake
inhibitors) can increase thoughts of suicide. For
Rutter, M. & Taylor, E. (eds) (2002) Child and Adolescent
this age group, fluoxetine, which is an SSRI
(4th edn). London: Blackwell.
Scott, A., Shaw, M. & Joughin, C. (eds) (2001) Finding the
antidepressant, can be used and research has
Evidence: A Gateway to the Literature in Child and
shown that the benefits outweigh the risks. None
Adolescent Mental Health
(2nd edn). London: Gaskell.
of the antidepressants are licensed for use in
2005 Royal College of Psychiatrists. These factsheets may be photocopied and distributed free of charge as long as the RoyalCollege of Psychiatrists is properly credited and no profit is gained from their use. They must be reproduced in their entiretywithout alteration. Permission to reproduce in print or to repost on the web must be obtained from the Head of Publications.
DEPRESSION IN CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE PAGE 2
MENTAL HEALTH AND GROWING UP FACTSHEET 34
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