Depression and low mood

Depression, self and self-esteem

Here young people talk about their sense of self; the way they perceived themselves and how young people felt depression had affected their view of themselves. A particularly common theme was (lack of) self-confidence. For many, depression and low self-esteem were closely connected and they described how depression had knocked down, what was for some an already low, self-confidence even further.

Lacking confidence and self-esteem

Many people we spoke with said they felt low about themselves. Many described feeling “poor” or “embarrassed” about themselves, had a pessimistic or negative view of self and felt “inept” and “clueless”, especially in social situations. Quite a few described how they didn’t like who they were; they felt worthless and there was nothing good about them. One woman whose hobby was singing and performing said she’s fine when she was acting a role on stage and being someone else but that “it’s being me I don’t like being”. Another one said she’d created imaginary identities for herself already at a young age because she felt she didn’t know who she really was. Many also described comparing themselves to others, their friends, siblings or other family members and said they felt inferior to them.

Most people said they had extremely low self-esteem. They described being “a burden” or “a failure” and feeling “worthless” and “pointless”. One man said:
“I really feel like I’m a burden, like I’m a weight on your shoulders, I’m the chip on the giant’s shoulder.”
A couple said they were always putting themselves down, doubting and questioning themselves, regardless of their family or friends trying to convince them otherwise. Many also described a tension between the expectations and pressures they felt from themselves or family, and their ability to fulfil these expectations. Some said they felt insecure about their appearance and attractiveness and one woman said she’d never felt “validated” by other people. Lacking in confidence had affected several areas of young people’s lives; friendships, home, schooling, exams and studies, work performance or ability to seek work in the first place.
Self-esteem and depression
Many said that low self-esteem had been one of the key factors contributing to their low mood or depression in the first instance, for example being targeted by bullies because they were shy or reserved (for more see our section on ‘Bullying and depression’). In turn, experiencing depression had also knocked down their confidence further, as one woman said; “It’s a constant negative cycle”.
For some, lacking in confidence meant they felt reluctant, unwilling or unable to seek help for depression, anxiety and other problems. A few said they’d just be wasting doctors’ time or that there were others more ill or more deserving of help than them. In this way too, lacking in confidence could prolong seeking help for depression and contribute to making it worse. However, making that step of reaching out and seeking help, and being able to tell someone how bad things were had helped many to feel more at ease with themselves, and in retrospect, improved their confidence.
Young people also described a tension between the way they felt about themselves internally, and how they portrayed themselves to the outside world. Many described “faking” confidence, “acting” out a role and “hiding the real me”. Trying to be what they felt as more socially acceptable or attractive could take a lot of work and be a conscious effort for young people. One woman said that:
“They’d [friends] say that I’m really like confident and loud and strong minded and strong willed, independent and I’m completely the opposite on the inside. If I ever sit down and actually look at myself, I know I’m the complete opposite… I rarely even bring down my guard.”
A few felt that depression had changed them and the way they saw themselves. They had lost confidence, become more withdrawn and passive or “put up a guard”. A couple described themselves as having been outspoken, confident and “bubbly” when they were younger but having lost the confidence to stick up for themselves after experiencing depression for a long time.
Finally, a couple of people emphasised it was important to distinguish between depression as an illness and their personality, or sense of self. This view also helped them to approach depression as something that could be treated and overcome.

For helplines and other resources please see our ‘Resources’ section.

Last reviewed June 2017.


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