Depression and depressive disorders

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Learn about depression, its signs and symptoms, how it is diagnosed and ways to manage and treat it.

Key points

  • Sadness is a normal part of life, but if it prevents you from doing fun or important things or lasts weeks or months, it could be part of a depressive disorder.
  • Depressive disorders can sometimes occur with other disorders, most often anxiety disorders.
  • Talk to your parents and see a health-care provider if you are unable to attend school or take part in activities you used to look forward to.
  • Talk to your parents and go to your nearest Emergency Department if you are having thoughts of suicide and a plan of how you would do it.

What is depression?

Everybody feels sad or ‘down’ from time to time. But when someone has depression, they feel a constant sadness and usually lose interest in activities they used to enjoy. These feelings can last weeks or months and stop you from going about your day-to-day routine.

What is a depressive disorder?

A depressive disorder is a more formal/clinical term for depression. We often use the term “depression” in society to casually describe when we are feeling glum, but depression is a clinically diagnosable mood disorder that can cause serious emotional and physical symptoms. If you suspect you have a depressive disorder, many treatment options are available to help improve how you feel.

What are the signs and symptoms of a depressive disorder?

Each person can experience depression differently. That said, there are a number of typical symptoms. These include:

  • general low mood or irritability (feeling “on edge”)
  • feeling that you are not good enough or not important
  • feeling hopeless about the future
  • thinking about hurting yourself, death or suicide
  • loss of interest in or avoiding activities you used to enjoy
  • low energy
  • difficulty concentrating
  • eating more or less than usual
  • sleeping less or more than usual
  • feeling slowed down
  • feeling tense and restless

How common are depressive disorders?

Many children and teens experience depressive disorders. In Canada, about 2 per cent of children under 12 and 8 per cent of teenagers are affected.

What causes depressive disorders?

There is no single cause for depressive disorders. They usually occur from a mix of genetics, psychological factors and stressful life events.


A child or teen is at greater risk for developing a depressive disorder if a family member, especially a parent or sibling, has one. After puberty, depression appears more common in females than males.

Psychological factors

Another factor is how you respond to stress. Depression is more likely if you experience more negative emotions when you are stressed.

Stressful life events

It’s not unusual for a depressive disorder to emerge if you have been dealing with stressful events in your life. These might include living with a chronic condition, losing a parent or loved one, divorce, family poverty, neglect, abuse, bullying, school difficulties and problems with friends or other relationships.

How is a depressive disorder diagnosed?

There is no specific medical test to diagnose a depressive disorder. Instead, a physician, nurse practitioner or psychologist will meet you and your parents or caregivers to talk about your everyday life and how you are feeling.

The health-care provider will ask about your general health and typical routine, including your family life, and about any stressors that might be making life difficult. They will also ask about any concerns and symptoms that are preventing you from going about your day-to-day life, and about your family’s mental health history.

To help them make a clear diagnosis, your health-care provider might ask you to fill in specific questionnaires.

How is a depressive disorder treated?

There are many treatment options for depressive disorders.

To start, ask yourself if you are getting enough sleep, regularly eating healthy foods and doing regular physical activity. Good sleep habits, nutrition and exercise all help improve your mood.

Other ways to treat depressive disorders include therapy and medications.


One common therapy is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This is a type of talk therapy in which you work with a therapist to learn how your thoughts affect your feelings and behaviour. A CBT therapist can help you learn the signs of depression and how different ways of thinking might help you feel less sad or less on edge. CBT can also help you come up with ideas and approaches to return to the enjoyable activities that you might have stopped. Depending on your own situation, other therapies, such as family therapy, may also help.


If your symptoms are more severe, a doctor might suggest antidepressants. These don’t necessarily ‘cure’ depression, but they can reduce symptoms by targeting chemicals in the brain that affect your mood.

Different types of antidepressants are available. The most common ones are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). You and your doctor may need to try a couple of types of antidepressants to find the right one for you.

Your doctor will tell you if antidepressant medication might help you. It is important to follow your doctor’s instructions around the medication.

How to help yourself with depression

Whether or not you are going to therapy and/or taking antidepressants, you can do a number of things to manage your mood.

Sleep, nutrition and exercise

Getting enough sleep is really important for your mood and concentration during the day. Look at your sleep routine and see how you could improve it, for instance by avoiding screens for at least an hour before bed or leaving electronics outside your bedroom.

A balanced diet of vegetables, fruit, whole grains and lower-fat proteins gives you a wide range of nutrients that support your body and brain every day. Also do your best to keep sugary and high-fat food and drinks to a minimum.

You can also improve your well-being by getting some exercise every day. It doesn’t always have to be vigorous – even getting outside for a walk or a bike ride can help your mood.

Hobbies and interests

There might be a number of things you used to enjoy but have avoided or stopped because of depression. Consider which hobbies or activities you could take up again, even once in a while or in a different way.

Distraction and relaxation

At home, you can use distraction and relaxation strategies. If you are feeling down, distractions such as listening to music, reading or playing games with others can help. For relaxation, you can try belly breathing or listening to guided meditations. There are many apps available to download, or you can follow along with the meditations on this site.

Talk to others

It can be really difficult to share how you are feeling, but having someone to talk to can really help get your mind off the things that are making you sad. You might decide to confide in a trusted friend, a family member or an adult in your community.

When to see a health-care provider about depression

It is important to see a health-care provider if your sadness and low mood stop you doing fun or important things, such as going to school, spending time with friends or doing extra-curricular activities.

Last updated: September 30th 2021