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Depression in young people

9-minute read

If you or someone close to you is experiencing an emergency, or is at immediate risk of harm, call triple zero (000). To talk to someone now, call Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Key facts

  • Depression is a mental health condition that causes you to feel sad or have a low mood for at least 2 weeks.
  • Around 1 in 6 people will have depression at some point in their lives, and 1 in 4 of them will first have depression when they are under the age of 20.
  • The signs of depression in young people involve changes in the way they think, feel or behave, and physical changes.
  • Depression can cause you to withdraw from work, study or relationships.
  • Some people with depression also have thoughts of suicide or self-harm.
  • It’s best to manage depression with a health professional.

What is depression in young people?

Depression is a mental health condition that causes you to feel sad or have a low mood. While it is normal to feel down sometimes, if you feel this way for 2 weeks or more, or your mood gets in the way of your day-to-day life, you may have depression.

This page is about depression in young people; however, many aspects and risk factors of depression are not age specific. Go here for general information about depression.

How common is depression in young people?

Depression affects 3 in 100 men aged 18 to 24 and 10 in 100 women of the same age. About 1 in every 6 people will have depression at some point in their lives, and 1 in 4 of them will first have depression when they are under the age of 20.

What causes depression in young people?

Depression can be caused by a wide range of factors, and every person has their own circumstances. Some factors linked with depression are:

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused disruption and socially isolated many young people, who may have been away from friends and family for a long time. This can increase the risk of depression.

There are some things you can do to look after your mental health:

Sometimes, people can develop depression for no obvious reason. Just because there is no clear cause doesn’t mean that you are not experiencing depression.

What are the signs of depression in young people?

Many of the signs and symptoms of depression are the same for young people. For a comprehensive list go here.

Many of the signs of depression in young people are like those in adults, but there are some things to look out for in young people. For example:

  • anger or irritability, which is often the main emotion in depression for young people, rather than the overwhelming sadness seen in adults
  • oversensitivity to criticism or rejection, because of extreme feelings of worthlessness
  • selective withdrawal, rather than complete isolation — young people tend to withdraw from some people, such as parents and some social groups, but keep up at least some friendships
  • unexplained aches and pains

Sometimes it can be difficult to tell the signs of depression in young people from the mood changes that are a normal part of growing up. An obvious and troubling change in behaviour that lasts longer than 2 weeks may mean your child needs support.

The signs of depression in young people involve changes in the way they think, feel or behave.

If you’re a young person, you may feel:

  • sad, tearful, moody, irritable, empty, numb or unmotivated
  • tired
  • pessimistic
  • worthless or guilty and blame yourself for things
  • uninterested in things your normally enjoy

You may also notice physical signs of depression, such as:

You may also have difficulties making decisions and have poor concentration and memory.

Almost everyone has some of these signs occasionally. If your symptoms are severe or won’t go away after a couple of weeks, you may be experiencing depression.

If depression becomes severe, you may have thoughts of self-harm or suicide. Signs of suicidal thoughts or plans are often not obvious. If you or someone you care about is thinking about suicide, it’s important that you seek help.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

Suicide and crisis support

If you or someone close to you is in an emergency, or at immediate risk of harm, call triple zero (000). To talk to someone now call Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 or Lifeline 13 11 14.

When should I seek help?

If you have signs of depression for 2 weeks or more, or if you are concerned that you may be depressed, speak to your doctor. The sooner you can get the help, the sooner you can start to feel better.

Your doctor will be able to assess your situation and work with you to build a mental health treatment plan. This is a plan written up by your doctor that will help you get up to 20 sessions per year with a mental health professional with the cost partly covered by Medicare.

The plan may include different treatment strategies and tools. If your doctor thinks that other health professionals, such as a mental health worker who specialises in adolescents, should be involved, they will be able to refer you to them.

If you have occasional signs of depression or are just feeling sad, you could reach out to a school counsellor, friend or family member for help.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

How can I help a young person with depression?

If a young person close to you has depression, encourage them to speak to their doctor. Their doctor will work with them to build a mental health treatment plan to help them feel better.

Some people with depression find it hard to have the energy or motivation to take care themselves, or they may feel hopeless, or like nothing can help. Supporting them and guiding them towards professional help will make their recovery process easier.

You could suggest that they start with one thing they know they can do, like seeing a friend or going for a walk, so that they feel that they are making progress.

Sometimes people with depression don’t want to seek help. In such a situation, the best thing you can do is to explain to them that you are concerned and give them information to read about depression.

It can help to remind them that 1 in 4 young people experience a mental health disorder, with depression being the most common. Assure them that there’s nothing to be embarrassed about, and doctors help people their age with depression all the time.

If seeing a doctor seems too difficult, you can suggest one of the online or telephone support services listed below.

How is depression in young people treated?

Your doctor can help you build a mental health treatment plan if you have depression. Your personal plan will depend on:

  • how severe your symptoms are
  • if you have people who can support you at home
  • how you would like to be treated
  • the health services available where you live
  • if you have other medical conditions

Your doctor will work with you to teach you strategies to help you cope. This can include stress management, problem solving and activity planning.

They may also suggest psychological therapy to help you with depression. One of the most helpful types of therapy for young people with depression is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

In some cases, your doctor may prescribe medicines for depression (antidepressants) or refer you on to a psychiatrist. It is important that you check in regularly with your doctor if you have started taking medicines for depression.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

Resources and support

  • Learn how to challenge negative thoughts that may be making your depression worse.
  • Speak to Kids Helpline about depression by calling 1800 55 1800 or via web chat.
  • Text Lifeline, 0477 13 11 14, for a confidential chat with a trained Lifeline Crisis Supporter.
  • Download HeadGear, the app which sends you a 30-minute mental health workout every day.
  • If you are a parent of a young person with depression, learn about discussing the issue with you child using the resources provided by Beyond Blue.
  • Find a doctor or psychologist near to you using the healthdirect Service Finder.
  • Share your experiences on My Circle, a free social platform for people aged between 13 and 25 years and supported by Kids Helpline counsellors.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: January 2023


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