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Depression in children and young people

depression in young people

Depression affects many young people and can have a serious impact on personal development and wellbeing. It’s therefore important young people are able to recognise some of the signs and symptoms of depression, both in themselves and friends, and feel comfortable seeking further support, when required.

Usually there is no one single cause of depression in children and young people. Often it is a combination of a reaction to stress factors outside themselves and their own individual chemical makeup. Depression may be triggered if the stress gets too hard to bear or goes on for too long. Particular events, such as the loss of a friend, may be the reason for depression in a number of people.

Depression can also arise after a physical illness and, sometimes, alcohol or medications can change the body's chemistry and lead to low mood.

Some types of personality may be more prone to depression than others. Shy, withdrawn teenagers, for example, may feel more isolated and alone than their more outgoing peers. They also may find it harder than others at seeking support when pressures and stresses become difficult to handle and this may lead to them experiencing depression.

Depression is often hidden

Depression in young people is often masked by anger and aggression, usually because they can't or don't feel comfortable expressing sadness and hopelessness.

Younger children have a tendency to isolate themselves when they are feeling depressed, so they may appear quiet and shy at these times.

Signs depression might be a problem:
  • unexplained feelings of sadness, hopeless and/or helplessness
  • altered sleeping patterns, either oversleeping or having difficulty getting to or staying asleep
  • loss of interest in activities previously found enjoyable, such as spending time with friends or playing sports
  • feeling anxious a lot of the time
  • having no energy or motivation
  • crying more than usual, or for no apparent reason.

The outlook for most young people with depression is good. The earlier a young person experiencing depression can talk to someone who can help them access treatment, the better.

What young people can do about depression

Learning how to manage stressful situations and recognising when to seek help, either personally or for a friend or relative, are important tools enabling young people to manage and possibly prevent depression. Stress management and coping techniques such as meditation and increased physical activity can be valuable ways to minimise the risk of developing depression.

If a person is experiencing many, or even a few of the symptoms associated with depression, it may be important to seek medical advice. Visiting a local GP is often advisable, who can then work out the best course of treatment.

Online programmes

For mild-to-moderate depression, online programmes are popular, can be effective, and are more convenient than face-to-face sessions for some people.

  • SPARX - A free online tool to help NZ young people learn to deal with depression and anxiety.
  • The Lowdown - A website created to help youth understand and deal with depression. Has an online chat room, personal stories, music and more.

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