Learn about depression and how to find help for children and teens in Ontario.
Sadness is a natural part of being human, and feeling this way for a few days can be normal. But if these feelings of sadness last for more than a couple of weeks and start interfering with a young person’s life in a major way, they may be suffering from depression.
Depression is the experience of feeling sad and “down” for a long period of time, to the point of feeling hopeless, helpless and worthless. Depression can interfere with everything, including school, family, and relationships. But getting help early can promote full recovery and let the person get back to being themself.
Remember, depression is a medical illness that affects the brain and hormones. A sad mood is a symptom of this illness. Depression is not a personal weakness. If someone is experiencing depression, it’s not their fault. And it’s very real. The sooner they get some help, the better. For more information, see “Finding Help” below.
If someone is having thoughts of suicide or of harming themselves, they should seek professional help immediately. They need to call 911, go to the nearest hospital, or contact a local distress centre (see Ontario Health Care Options).
A “clinical” or medical depression can happen to anyone. About 1 in 5 young people will experience depression before the age of 18. There is no single cause, but there are some known risk factors:
- Facing challenging life events, such as not doing well at school, being bullied or assaulted, being injured in an accident, seeing a very upsetting event, having a difficult health problem, or experiencing the death of a loved one
- Experiencing traumatic events during childhood
- Having a family member or other relative who’s experienced depression
- Living in difficult circumstances such as poverty, unemployment, family conflict or family breakdown
- Misusing drugs or alcohol
- Having a negative, pessimistic outlook
Signs of depression
Depression not only changes the way a person feels, but also how they think and act. It’s not just about mood. Those close to someone with depression may notice that something is wrong. In fact, sometimes friends and family might sense something’s wrong before the young person does.
Also, depression can be especially hard to recognize among teens because mood swings and irritability can be part of normal adolescent development, rather than depression. But depression is linked to suicide risk and the signs of depression should never be ignored.
A person experiencing depression might:
- Feel sad or anxious more than usual
- Feel worried, angry or upset a lot
- Have trouble coping with everyday activities, even minor ones
- Lose interest in things they enjoy doing
- Feel hopeless, worthless or guilty
- Have trouble sleeping or sleep more than usual
- Cry a lot
- Have low energy, or feel restless
- Want to eat more or less than usual
- Have trouble paying attention, concentrating or making decisions
- Think a lot about suicide, or death in general
In rare cases of severe depression, people can even lose touch with reality and feel paranoid, hold strange beliefs, hear voices or see things that aren’t there.
Some online tools have been developed to help people assess whether or not they might have depression. These are just guides. No test is 100% accurate. Whatever these tools reveal, anyone with concerns should speak to a health professional.
Emotional Distress Scale
Treatment for depression
Since everyone is different, what works best for one person might not work well for another. No matter what treatment is tried, support from family and friends, as well as learning self-help skills, remain important for recovery. The main thing to keep in mind is that depression is treatable.
Counselling or Talk Therapy
The primary treatment for depression or anxiety is psychological counseling, also called “talk therapy” or psychotherapy. Several types of talk therapy have been shown to be safe and effective for the treatment of depression.
- Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) can help us see how our thoughts and actions are connected to our feelings. CBT teaches us how to replace negative, depressive thoughts and behaviours with more positive, constructive thoughts and actions.
- Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) focuses on improving relationships by helping us to resolve conflicts that are contributing to the depression.
- Solution-focused therapy focuses on personal strengths and helps us to create a positive future for ourself by finding solutions to our stresses and problems.
Anti-depressant medications may be used, often in combination with talk therapy. They are usually prescribed only when the depression is severe or talk therapy isn’t working so well on its own. These medications affect the chemical balance in the brain and must be prescribed by a medical professional such as a family doctor, a pediatrician or a psychiatrist. The doctor will closely monitor the person taking the medication to watch for side-effects, to be sure that the type of medication and dose are right for them.
Managing depression – Self-help tips
No matter what point someone is at in their depression and recovery, there are things they can do to take care of themselves. That means taking care of both the body and the mind. Here are some self-help tips you can share:
- Eat right, sleep right, get outside, move your body! All of these basic healthy behaviours can make a positive difference to your whole body-mind system.
- Avoid alcohol and street drugs. These may seem like a way to make you feel better, but in the long run, they can make things a lot worse and can prevent recovery.
- Find ways to reduce stress where and when you can. Try out yoga or tai chi, or learn how to meditate.
- Keep a journal of your thoughts and feelings. Try to come up with one or two things you’re grateful for every day and make a note of them. It can help.
- Express yourself creatively. For example, dance, draw, or make music.
Check out self-help programs in books or on websites. These programs can teach you strategies to manage depression or guide you to make good changes in your life, one step at a time. See “More information about depression” below.
If you can find a self-help group in your community, it can be very helpful to attend.
- Let you talk to people who have “been there”
- Support you in dealing with your problem
- Allow people to share their experiences with coping strategies or treatments
- Help you to work through whatever treatment you choose
To learn about self-help groups in your area and other resources, contact:
- Canadian Mental Health Association (http://www.cmha.ca/get-involved/find-your-cmha)
- Mood Disorders Association of Ontario (http://www.mooddisorders.ca)
- Ontario Self-Help Resource Centre (http://www.selfhelp.on.ca)
Helping a friend or family member
You can play a key role in helping a person who is depressed:
- Be a good listener and avoid making any judgments.
- Encourage your friend or family member to get other help as well, and assist them in finding it.
- Offer to go with them to appointments.
- Stay in regular contact; let them know you’re there for them.
- Make plans together to do something fun.
- Stay alert for warning signs of suicidal behaviour (see Understanding Suicide and Finding Help). If there is an immediate risk, get them to a hospital emergency department, or call 911 right away.
Don’t forget to look after yourself. Make sure to make time for yourself and your own wellness needs – physical, emotional, social – and seek extra support for yourself when you need it.
Find services close to home by searching the Ontario Health Care Options directory.
Contact Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 or http://www.kidshelpphone.ca. They provide free professional counselling by phone or online, and can connect young people to information and local help. Kids Help Phone is available 24/7 for children and youth between the ages of 5 and 20. Online chat is also available at certain times — check the website for hours.
Talk to a school counsellor or nurse.
Tell your family doctor.
You may find that the support of family, friends and family doctor is enough to help a young person feel themselves again. If not, there are psychiatrists, psychologists, mental health nurses, social workers and counsellors in the community. They can be found in a range of health-care settings in the community. Your family doctor can refer you to these mental health specialists. Or you can also get connected through one of the community agencies listed in the Ontario Health Care Options directory.
More information about depression
Dealing with Depression: Antidepressant Skills for Teens (BC)
Here to Help (BC)
Informed Choices about Depression
Teen Mental Health