Depression and low mood

Childhood and life before depression

For many young people, their first memories of low moods dated back to their early childhood and some couldn’t remember a time that they hadn’t felt low or depressed. Many also recounted happy memories of childhood and described how things had started to go wrong later on. Here young people talk about their childhood memories. We also have separate sections where young people talk more about the related experiences of being bullied (‘Bullying and depression’), going to school (‘School and studying’) and their first experiences of depression (‘First experiences of depression’).

Happy memories
Many people talked about having had “a lovely childhood” and having everything they could wish for. A few described themselves as having been “a perfect child”, "the smart one in the family”, “top of the class” or as one young man put it “I always excelled in everything, be it Maths, Science, Sports”. For some, this contributed to a sense of pressure and a fear of “letting everyone down”.

For more on young people’s experiences of their family relationships see “Parents & Family”.

Feeling different
Many people said they had instinctively felt different all their lives. They described feeling cut off from the world and “isolated in my sadness”. For some, this meant a painful level of awareness of other people’s behaviour, being extra conscious of social relationships and the need to fit in. Others didn’t feel comfortable in themselves, “confused” about who they were and created imaginary identities for themselves.
For some, the feelings of being different were caused by a physical illness or a disability which they felt made them stand out. They felt like the only one in the school who was in a wheelchair, had epilepsy or who’d experienced early hair loss, for example.

Several people struggled to make friends or perhaps had just only one friend in school. One woman described her sense of difference as a “heightened awareness” of how she didn’t fit in with everyone else and how much hard work making friends was for her. Another one said she really wanted to join in play but felt so withdrawn and lacking in confidence to be able to' "I always just stood and watched on from the side”.
People said they had become so used to feeling different and out of place that after years it became “normal” for them.
Unsettled home life
Unsettled home life in childhood and teens was common. Many had experienced their parents divorcing or splitting up, parents having arguments and fights or experienced domestic violence. For some whose parents had divorced the messy custody battles inside and outside of court had been a hugely upsetting experience.
For some, the troubles at home had gotten so bad that they’d either ran away or been “kicked out”. They’d stayed with friends for a while, or ended up in homeless accommodation.
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Quite a few people had experienced bereavement in their childhood, and some had lost several family members.
Quite a few people said they never had a proper childhood as they “had to grow up quick”. This could be because of a long term illness or disability, being bereaved as a young child or instability at home. For some, their early experiences of mental health problems had taken up the best part of their teens and they’d never got to just be a teenager.

Experiences of abuse
A few young people also talked about experiences of abuse in their childhood. Some had witnessed domestic violence between their parents, some had been sexually, physically or verbally abused themselves by a parent or a sibling. Some described the abuser having been ill or having mental health problems. One young woman had been sexually assaulted by a stranger in her early teens. She says that incident changed her life;
“Everything just changed completely from that one event. It changed my view of myself and how I viewed everything else.”
For few, the abuse had been more ongoing neglect and emotional instability at home. One woman who’d witnessed her mum suffer years of domestic violence by her dad said “I grew up feeling such fear and uncertainty”.
Some of these people hadn’t wanted to talk about their experiences of abuse until many years later, usually in therapy where they could start processing what had happened. A few had opened up about sexual abuse at home, which had led to police investigations and the appropriate authorities getting involved. This had been really hard, especially as for some it had caused further tension at home, but they felt reassured that they were getting help.
For help and advice for anyone experiencing or witnessing abuse see the crisis helpline information on our mental health and wellbeing resources.

Last reviewed June 2017.

Last updated December 2013.


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