What is depression? And how you help someone who is depressed

Young people have ‘good’ feeling days and ‘days where everything sucks’ but when does it become a problem? It becomes a problem when young people have more ‘days where everything sucks’ than the ‘good’ feeling days.

Depression in young people is on the increase: one in 16 young people, aged 16-24, lives with depression[1]. This is a statistic based on young people reporting their symptoms and reaching out to services and programs and would not include all the other young people who suffer in silence.

Some of the presenting symptoms of depression in young people are feeling: irritable, sad, stress, angrier than usual, restless, unable to relax, unhappy, miserable, disappointment, guilty and worthless over eating and under eating and sleeping difficulties.

I am a psychologist with Youth Off The Streets and in the five years I have worked there I often encounter depression in young people. They are often unaware that it is happening to them. Young people suffer in silence for a few reasons; they don’t actually know they are depressed or they experience these negative thoughts and emotions but they don’t know how to articulate what they feel. This can be extremely scary and unsettling, so for most of them they will suffer in silence and not seek any help or support. They keep what they are feeling to themselves, they may isolate from family and friends and sometimes even self-medicate with substances to make themselves feel better.

Alcohol and other drugs are only a quick fix and they don’t solve the cause of the depression. Young people self-medicate, largely, due to the stigma around mental health in today’s society. It has come a long way but there is still more work to be done in this area. One of the young people I work with in a counselling capacity who was presenting with symptoms of depression told me that she was ‘mental’ because she was sad and having negative and suicidal thoughts. In my work with her, I validated these feelings but also highlighted how common this is and that she is not mental and we are working on an emotional vocabulary to use other words to describe what she is feeling.

The inability to articulate their feelings is a big problem, but you can’t just tell them they’re wrong and what they’re actually feeling is depression. Seeking professional help is a good idea if you think a young person has depression, at Youth Off The Streets our psychologists:

· Start by validating and acknowledging their feelings

· Provide accurate statistics on the prevalence of depression among young people and society in general

· Develop an emotional vocabulary, equipping the young person with the tools and words to articulate how they feel

· Explore and challenge negative thoughts through evidence based practices (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and Acceptance Commitment Therapy)

· Completing safety plans for young people expressing suicidal ideation or self-harm

· Psycho education on depression and other presenting symptoms

Depression in young people is on the increase. They often find it difficult to communicate how they feel and this can lead to a number of negative behaviours. It’s important to offer care to these young people, validate their feelings, develop their emotional vocabulary and educate them about their mental health.

If you are in need of assistance or are struggling with depression, please call

· Lifeline on 13 11 14

· Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800

· MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978

· Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
[1] Youth Beyond Blue

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