Center for Young Women's Health




  • Depression affects your feelings, behaviors, and thoughts.
  • If you feel sad most of the time and it lasts for 2 or more weeks, see your health care provider.
  • Treatment for depression may involve therapy and/or medication.
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How to Get Help Coping with Depression

Having bad days once in a while is normal, but what if you feel down in the dumps for a few weeks, or even a few months? If you have been having feelings of sadness or irritability that won't go away, you might be experiencing depression. Depression is very common and can affect any person at any age, including teens. This guide is designed to help you understand depression better, so that you will be able to recognize the signs of depression in yourself or people who are close to you, so you will know how to help.


What is depression?

Depression is a psychological condition that affects your feelings, behaviors, and thoughts. You may have feelings of sadness or irritability, a lack of energy, trouble sleeping, feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, or unhappy thoughts about yourself or your life. You may even feel that your life is not worth living, or think about hurting yourself. Depression can also affect your physical health: you can have aches and pains all over, or in specific areas such as your stomach. You may have headaches, trouble sleeping, eating, or concentrating, or may not be able to pinpoint what is making you so unhappy.


Who gets depressed?

Depression affects children, teens, and adults of all ages. No one knows the exact number of teens affected by depression, but we do know that it affects a large number of teens, both male and female, from all ethnic and racial backgrounds. Sometimes it happens as a direct result of a stressful or upsetting situation, and sometimes it appears to have snuck up on you. It is important to try to understand the difference between feeling sad or “blue’” - which are typical feelings experienced by everyone at times - and being what is called “clinically depressed”.


What are the symptoms of clinical depression?

You may:

How do I know whether I am depressed or just sad?

It's normal to feel depressed or sad sometimes. However, if you have some or all of the symptoms above most of the time for at least two weeks, you could have depression. If you are depressed, you may or may not notice changes in yourself, but usually people who are close to you will notice a change in you. Likewise, if you are close to someone who is truly depressed, you will usually notice a big change in that person's behavior or mood.


There are no laboratory tests that can be done to prove that you are depressed, like there are for illnesses such as strep throat or diabetes. However, if you think you may be depressed, it's worth talking with someone about it. A professional who is trained to understand depression, such as your health care provider or a counselor, will be able to ask the right questions to help decide if you are going through a period of sadness or whether you have depression.


What are the effects of depression?

Depression has many different and powerful effects on people who have depression and on the people around them.


Depression can:

What causes depression?

No one knows for sure what causes depression. The most important thing to keep in mind is that it is not your fault if you become depressed. Most likely, depression is caused by a combination of things, some of which have to do with the chemicals in your brain and some that have to do with what's happening in your life. Some factors that may put you at risk for depression are:

These are just a few common examples, but there are many circumstances that can lead to feelings of depression. You may experience many of these things and yet not feel depressed. Or you may not have any of these problems but still feel depressed.


It is important to talk with someone qualified to help you if you suspect that you are depressed. A trusted adult such as a parent/guardian, a teacher, guidance counselor, nurse, health care provider, or clergy person can help you find the right counselor.

If you ever think that you are going to hurt yourself, it is extremely important to tell someone right away and get help to keep safe: you can always go to an emergency room.

    Next: How to Get Help


Written and reviewed by the CYWH Staff at Boston Children's Hospital


Updated: 4/27/2012

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