Skip to content
Skip to main content

About this free course

Download this course

Share this free course

Introduction to adolescent mental health
Introduction to adolescent mental health

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

3 Depression

Depression, thought of as a problem with low mood, is generally a feeling of sadness accompanied by a sense of hopelessness, emptiness, and the loss of interest in things one used to enjoy.

A piece of artwork of a person in a chair with a cloud over their head. The artwork is intended to illustrate depression.
Figure 4: Depression

Young people who are depressed are more likely to be irritable or show aggression than adults with depression. They may also refuse school, perform progressively less well in education, and isolate themselves from family and friends (Roberts, 2013). Young people with depression often find it difficult to sleep, or perhaps feel sleepy or tired for large parts of the day. They may express feelings of worthlessness or guilt, and find it difficult to concentrate. You may also notice changes in their appetite.

Activity 3: Elliott’s depression

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Read this case of Elliott, who is experiencing depression:

Elliot, who is 16, has had difficulty sleeping in the past few months and is frequently tired. He has been spending more time alone and, despite complaining of boredom, has little energy or desire to go out with his friends. His parents have noticed that he has been much more irritable than normal and that he doesn’t seem to be doing much homework these days. When asked about these changes, he says he feels worthless and that nobody likes him.

  • Which aspects of Elliott’s experience might lead you to believe he is ‘struggling’ rather than ‘coping’ with his low mood?
  • Are there any aspects of his experience you might consider ‘normal’?
  • What makes it difficult to decide?
To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


  • Signs that Elliott is ‘struggling’ include his tiredness and poor sleep over several months. Also, he seems to have stopped socialising. Expressing his worthlessness and low self-esteem is a clear sign he is struggling.
  • Elliott’s irritability and lack of homework might be explained by something that happened at school that is upsetting him, which could be thought of as a ‘normal’ response.
  • It can be difficult to decide, partly because it is common for adolescents to feel tired in the mornings if they are adjusting to the changes in their body clock, and Elliott’s irritability might be taken to be normal teenage behaviour, but it could also be part of his depression. As with Kim’s case, the key to identifying a struggling young person would be to notice a combination of factors over a length of time.

Many of the signs of anxiety and depression can look similar, and it will help to talk to a young person you are concerned about. You’ll explore ways of encouraging a young person to talk in Session 6. The next section explores eating disorders, which can sometimes arise when a young person is depressed or anxious.