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This webpage looks at how to recognize depression, and what you can do to help yourself or someone else.

What is depression?

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Feeling sad is a normal reaction to experiences that are stressful or upsetting. However, when these feelings go on and on, take over your usual self and interfere with your whole life, it can become an illness. This illness is called ‘depression’.

A young person with depression may experience major problems not only with how they feel, but also with how they behave. This may cause difficulties at home and at school, as well as in relationships with family and friends. Some young people start taking risks.

These can include missing school, harming themselves (for example by cutting), misusing drugs or alcohol, and having inappropriate sexual relationships. Sometimes young people with depression may even try to kill themselves.

At the extreme end of depression, a small number of young people may develop ‘psychotic’ symptoms that may include very unusual and sometimes unpleasant thoughts and experiences like hearing voices.

A small number of young people also have periods of high mood, known as ‘mania’, along with periods of low mood. They may be suffering from bipolar affective disorder.

How common is it?

Depression is thought to occur in about 1-3% of children and young people. Anybody can suffer from depression and it affects people of all ages, ethnicities, and social backgrounds. 5% of the UAE population suffers from depression, and 17% of teenagers in the UAE exhibit depressive symptoms.

It is more common in older adolescents, particularly teenage girls, but can affect children of any age.

We all feel sad and depressed at times. These feelings do not usually last for more than a week or two, and they do not interfere much with our life. Sometimes there is a reason for this feeling, and sometimes there isn’t. We usually find ways to deal with this feeling by talking to a friend, for example. But we don’t usually end up needing medical attention.

Depression, the illness, is different. It differs in that:

  • The feeling of sadness so strong that it affects your life.
  • Your feelings do not improve after a few days – they last for weeks or months

Most people with depression will not experience all of the symptoms listed below, but most will have at least five or six.

Some of the symptoms you might experience when suffering from depression:

  • being moody and irritable – easily upset, ‘ratty’ or tearful
  • becoming withdrawn – avoiding friends, family and regular activities
  • feeling guilty or bad, being self-critical and self-blaming – hating yourself
  • feeling unhappy, miserable and lonely a lot of the time
  • feeling hopeless and wanting to die
  • finding it difficult to concentrate
  • not looking after your personal appearance
  • changes in sleep pattern: sleeping too little or too much
  • feeling tired
  • not interested in eating, eating little or too much
  • suffering aches and pains, such as headaches or stomach-aches
  • feeling you are not good looking.

If you have all or most of these signs and have had them over a long period of time, it may mean that you are depressed. You may find it very difficult to talk about how you are feeling

You may not realize the extent of your depression for a while, especially if it happens gradually.

You may try to resist the feeling, and you may begin to blame yourself for being lazy or lacking in determination and willpower.

Sometimes it takes a friend or partner to convince you that there really is a problem that needs to be addressed.

You may begin to notice pain, persistent headache, or restlessness. Physical symptoms like this could be the first sign of depression.

There is no specific cause for depression. It is usually caused by a mixture of things, rather than any one thing alone such as:

  • or personal experiences can be a trigger. These include family breakdown, the death or loss of someone you love, neglect, abuse, bullying and physical illness.
  • Depression can start if too many changes happen in your life too quickly.
  • You are more likely to suffer from depression if you are under a lot of stress, have no one to share their worries with.
  • Depression may run in families and can be more common if you already suffer from physical illness or difficulties.
  • Depression seems to be linked with chemical changes in the part of brain that controls mood.

What can I do if I am feeling low?

You can try a few things to see if it helps you feel better.

Simply talking to someone you trust, and who you feel understands, can lighten the burden. It can also make it easier to work out practical solutions to problems.

For example, if you feel unable to do your homework, letting your family and teachers know can be helpful for you to get some support to complete your work.

Here are some things to try:

  • talk to someone whom you trust and can help
  • try to do some physical activity and eat healthy food
  • try to keep yourself occupied by doing activities, even if you feel you do not really enjoy them
  • try not to stay all alone in your room, especially during the day
  • don’t overstress yourself and allow for fun and leisure time.   

No.

Others may think that you have “given up” to feeling depressed, as if it were your decision. But the truth is that depression can be a disease like any chronic disease such as diabetes or asthma.

Depression can afflict the most determined people – even people who seem outgoing and resilient can suffer from severe depression.

How parents/family and teachers can help?

When you have depression, you may feel ashamed and guilty of the way you are. You may worry about upsetting others especially family, or being told you are making it up or blamed it is your fault by telling them how you feel.

It can also be very hard to put your feelings into words. However, many young people in same situation feel sense of relief at being understood once they have talked about it. Letting others know about how you feel is important for getting the right help and support.

When should I get more help?

Many young people will get better on their own with support and understanding. If the depression is dragging on and causing serious difficulties, it’s important to seek treatment.

Sometimes when you are feeling low, you may think or try to use drugs or alcohol to forget your feelings.

You may see no hope and feel like running away from it all. Doing this only makes the situation worse. When this happens it is important that you let others know and get help.

Where can I get help?

Your GP, or sometimes school nurse, will be able to advise you about what help is available and to arrange a way for you to get the help you need either through an outpatient department at you usual hospital or at a nearby clinic.

They will see you and your family and discuss what is the right treatment for you.

When the depression is not very bad, which means you are still able to do your daily activities like going to school, you may find psychological therapies also called talking therapies helpful.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is one of these which is effective for treating depression.

Other talking therapies which can be helpful. These can be family therapy and interpersonal therapy, both of which may be available from your CAMHS service.

When your depression is severe and has been going on for long time, you may find it difficult to even talk about it. In this situation, medications can help to lift your mood.

Medications called ‘antidepressants’ are usually used for this condition. They need to be prescribed by specialist child and adolescent psychiatrists after a careful assessment. If you are given medication, you may need physical health check-up beforehand, and then you will need regular check-ups once you have started on the medication.

Medications are usually given for few months and sometimes may need to be taken for a longer time. It is important that if you are prescribed medication that you take it the way it has been prescribed for you ( i.e the right dose and timing).

Remember you are not alone – depression is a common problem and can be overcome.

“I was 15. They took me to see the doctor because they thought I was a bit down and I had started cutting.

I hadn’t noticed much, cutting made me feel better and I just felt they were having a bit of a go really. It was only when I started to talk more, that I started to realise how much I had changed, I used to be happy, not all the time, but I couldn’t now – not like I used to.

I was falling out with my teachers – they said I wasn’t getting on with work and it made me cross.

I was trying but I just couldn’t get on with it not like I did in year 8 and 9. The doctor said it could be my concentration. I hadn’t thought of that I just thought I was thick.

Then when he asked about other things, I started to see, I couldn’t sleep properly and didn’t feel like going out to play football anymore.

I said it was just boring, but as I started to feel better, I did play again and I think saying it was boring was all part of my depression.

That was the same with my family, I mean you don’t get on all time do you and they are still a pain sometimes now, but when I was depressed it was like we were always arguing, I just couldn’t talk to them and they just wound me up.

It wasn’t till they talked to me and things started to change, that was when I looked back and realized how depressed I was.”

Epic friends – Mental health problems are common. This website is all about helping you to help your friends who might be struggling emotionally.

YoungMinds – Provides information and advice on child mental health issues. YoungMinds have also developed HeadMeds which gives young people in England general information about medication. HeadMeds does not give you medical advice. Please talk to your Doctor or anyone else who is supporting you about your own situation because everyone is different.

Rethink Mental Illness – Mental health charity helping people with mental health problems and have a section for young people.

Further help

Changing Minds: Mental Health: What it is, What to do, Where to go?: This CD-ROM is designed for 13-17 years. It includes a wide range of resources – audio, visual, video and written materials – and a wealth of reference for further information and help, including a section on depression.

There are many who have lived with depression for many years, but have found a way into feeling better.

Knowing that you have a diagnosis, or perhaps more, is not the end of the world; On the contrary, it can give you the opportunity to understand yourself, to take yourself seriously, and help yourself understand what you need and want. It may also help you feel better about yourself.

And remember that when you understand the illness you are suffering from, you give yourself the opportunity to look for ways to get better.

If it gets worse, or lasts too long, it can make you feel bad and may interfere with your life. It can increase your depression and affect your physical health. Therefore, try as much as possible to get a professional’s help.

This article is adapted from the article by the Royal College of Psychiatrists in the UK.

This information reflects the best available evidence at the time of writing. Our mental health information for young people was written in 2017 and will be reviewed in 2020.

©  March 2017 Royal College of Psychiatrists

References

NICE (2017) ‘Depression in children and young people: identification and management (CG28).

https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg28

Rutter, M. & Taylor, E. (eds) (2002) ‘Child and Adolescent Psychiatry’ (4th edn). London: Blackwell.

Credits

Revised by the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Child and Family Public Engagement Editorial Board (CAFPEB).

With grateful thanks to Dr Mathew Fernando, Dr Virginia Davies, Dr Vasu Balaguru, and Thomas Kennedy..

This resource reflects the best possible evidence at the time of writing.

This information has been provided by The Royal College of Psychiatrists, UK. The content has been edited by the team at Kayan Mental Health Initiative, under the supervision of specialists in order to reflect local contexts in the UAE.

Royal College of Psychiatrists

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