Depression is a mood disorder characterised by persistent low mood, it affects between 1-3% of young people.

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Causes of depression

  • No one thing causes depression.
  • Family history, stressful life events such as losing a parent, divorce, or discrimination and other physical or psychological problems are all factors that contribute to the onset of depression.
  • Factors which can increase the risk of depression for children and adolescents include stress, a loss of a parent or someone they love, breakup of a romantic relationship, attentional conduct or learning disorders, abuse or neglect and chronic illnesses, such as diabetes.

Symptoms of depression

There are many symptoms related to depression which can make it difficult to spot. Common depression symptoms in children include:

  • simply appearing unhappy much of the time
  • headaches, stomach aches, tiredness and other vague physical complaints which appear to have no obvious cause
  • persistently tired 
  • doing badly at school
  • major changes in weight
  • being unusually irritable, sulky or becoming quiet and introverted
  • losing interest in favourite hobbies
  • having poor self-esteem or recurrent feelings of worthlessness
  • wanting to self-harm
  • overly self-critical  
  • contemplating suicide

It is not always easy to spot depression in children as they may not be able to express their feelings and can react to their moods in a more physical way.

Treatments for depression

  • With support from friends, family and school many young people have reported that they start to feel better.
  • For more persistent depression a range of treatments are available which include cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and family therapy or interpersonal therapy. These are available through the local Child and Adolescent Health Services (CAMHs).
  • With very severe and persistent depression, medication may be used.
  • Exercise can help relieve symptoms  

Supporting students with depression

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  • Look out for changes in behaviour, such as lethargy, irritability, self-criticism, lateness, increased absence.
  • Though the young person may present as withdrawn or not interested, do not ignore them, sensitively encourage them to engage in learning.
  • Don't give up if offers of help are turned down. Sensitively continue to offer support.

Managing workload

  • Falling behind with school work adds additional stress and anxiety as they may feel overwhelmed with the amount of work they have missed. Meet with the young person and discuss a plan to help catch up on work.


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