What is depression?

It is normal to go through times when you feel sad, stressed or tired, especially if you are experiencing problems at home, school or work. But these feelings are different from the prolonged and severe negative feelings experienced because of depression. Depression is not caused by the usual stresses of life, and experiencing depression has nothing to do with how “good” or “easy” your life is.

Globally it is estimated that 300 million people of all ages experience depression, and depression is currently the leading cause of disability worldwide. It is important that people are educated about depression, and that we are able to speak openly and honestly about our experiences and struggles.

Depression can affect anyone regardless of age, race, gender or socioeconomic status. The disorder can affect a person’s ability to carry out even the simplest everyday tasks, with sometimes devastating consequences for relationships with family and friends as well as the ability to function at school or work.

Symptoms of depression to look out for:

  • Sad, low, or irritable mood or feeling nothing
  • Decreased interest or pleasure in activities
  • Change in appetite or weight
  • Sleeping more or less than usual
  • Feeling restless or slowed down
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Decreased concentration
  • Sense of hopelessness
  • Substance abuse
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

How does depression affect young people?  

The 2008 National Youth at Risk Survey, which focused on children and adolescents between grade 8 and 11, found that one-in-four youth (24.7%) reported feeling sad or hopeless, and just under 18% had made at least one suicide attempt. Only 37.2% of youth who reported feelings of sadness had sought treatment from a counsellor or doctor.

Depression is associated with increased risks of substance abuse, unemployment, early pregnancy, educational underachievement and suicide. Depression often remains under-reported by teens, with studies finding that it often takes several years before depressed adolescents and children receive appropriate treatment. This delay is in part because of stigma and fear of discrimination, and in part because parents and caretakers do not always take teens mental health complaints seriously enough. It is crucial that young people experiencing depression feel safe and comfortable to open up about their struggles, and are able to seek the correct help and treatment they need.

Depression and suicide 

World-wide suicide is now listed as the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year old’s according to the World Health Organisation. People with Depression are at increased risk for suicide, especially if the depression is left untreated.

Be aware of the warning signs that someone may be contemplating suicide:

  • Intense hopelessness or sadness
  • Preoccupation with death
  • Loss of interest in regular activities
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Talking about what it will be like when they are gone
  • Giving away valued possessions

If you suspect that someone you know is thinking about suicide, ask them about it and let them know you are concerned. Suicidal thoughts must be taken seriously and should never be ignored.

If you are suicidal and need help or are unsure how to help someone in need, contact one of the 24 hour crises lines below:

SADAG Suicide Crisis Line

0800 567 567

SMS 31393

Lifeline National Counselling Line

0861 322 322


What causes depression?

Research has shown that there are a number of factors that make a person more likely to develop depression; these include environmental factors such as negative childhood experiences like abuse or poverty, stressful life events such as the loss of a job, death of a loved one or exposure to physical violence. There is also a genetic and physiological component, as first degree relatives of someone with major depressive disorder are two to-four times more likely to develop the disorder.

The fact that you have a family who loves you, a big group of friends, that you are doing well in school or at work, or that your family may be financially well off do not mean that you are immune from developing depression, or that you do not “have the right” to experience depression. Depression is a physical illness just like cancer or diabetes, and can affect anyone.

Can depression be treated? 

With the right support and treatment plan, many people are able to recover from depression and live healthy lives. There are a number of treatment options for depression. Determining which course of action is appropriate for each person should be done with the guidance of a mental health professional.

Some options include:

  • Psychological treatments: Psychological treatments or “talk therapy” works by helping your brain better control your thoughts and emotions. There are two different types of psychotherapy that have been found to be effective for treating depression, such as Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and Interpersonal Therapy (IPT). These therapies can be done one-on-one (just you and and your therapist) or in a group (with other young people who also have depression). The therapy may also have a family component (to help parents and siblings understand depression and learn how they can help)
  • Medication: Medication helps the brain correct the functioning of its emotional control circuits. Most often, people with depression will be treated with both medication and psychotherapy – medication for short-term improvement and psychotherapy for long-term change. Some people may need to have both medication and psychotherapy for a substantial period of time to keep well
  • School/ work supports: Sometimes certain adaptations can be made by the school or workplace to assist you in coping with and managing your symptoms. You will need to speak to your teachers/manger about these options
  • Healthy lifestyle: Maintaining a healthy, regular daily routine is very important for a person with depression. You need to follow a healthy diet, get enough sleep, do regular exercise and spend time doing something that relaxes you, like spending time with friends or family

If you suspect that you or someone you know may be experiencing depression, seek the help of a mental health professional