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Depression and low mood (young people)

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”.

 

Sarah says she had a really comfortable life as a child but sometimes felt she didn’t get her...

Sarah says she had a really comfortable life as a child but sometimes felt she didn’t get her...

Age at interview: 17
Sex: Female
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I’ve never had a bad home life like, my parents have always looked after me, we’ve never, we’ve never not had stuff like, we’ve never not had food, never not been able to go to school ‘cos we can’t afford the bus fare, we were quite well off so we were lucky compared to what some other people have.
 
But I think that’s where the problem was I had a lot of stuff like, well not necessarily not stuff but I had a comfortable life and my parents were just you know used to it. And because my brother’s got loads of like, he’s like deaf in one ear, he’s got learning problems and all sorts, so they paid more attention to him than they did for me from the off and it made me think well I’m not really worth that much otherwise they’d be paying more attention to me, they’d be going to school when I’ve had problems. And they’d be taking me to the doctors when I’m ill, but they didn’t, it was just, it really knocked you.
 

Sara grew up in a busy household where she felt left out. (Read by an actor).

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Sara grew up in a busy household where she felt left out. (Read by an actor).

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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I didn’t have like a terribly unhappy childhood, you know my parents were like great to me, I didn’t, I got on well with my sisters, it wasn’t hugely difficult, but I definitely, you know, talking to the counsellor it’s kind of made me realise that in my house because we always had a lot of guests, like my parents’ relatives coming to stay, or you know, just generally there was a lot of coming and going in the house, and it’s not a very big house, so we tend to be quite, you know, chucked in the corner, like not chucked, but it was kind of just pushed aside, you know, make room for the guests, and I grew up, I didn’t have, you know maybe when I was about 5 that really started happening quite regularly, so from the age of 5 onwards, I always felt kind of, I didn’t feel it so much as then probably, but I didn’t, I felt quite left out and neglected, and I was quite a quiet child anyway, just by nature, but that kind of made me withdraw even more.

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.
 

Beth always struggled to make friends and was “always grasping to feel fitting in”.

Beth always struggled to make friends and was “always grasping to feel fitting in”.

Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
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I felt like I you know I was at kids and I had friends, but I always and I don’t know, you know kids don’t notice, but I always felt, I don’t know like ‘cos I’ve got an old mind now, whether I had that old mind when I was younger, or it’s just the memories, but you think back and you think, “Oh I had to try so hard to be friends with you, and I’m like 11, this shouldn’t be hard.”, I was, yeah, was always really conscious of relationships with people.
 
But ah again, through school I was always just felt like I was grasping on. It wasn’t until I got to secondary school I felt like I had a solid base of friends. ‘Cos I had my brother at home, it wasn’t a problem, but at school I always felt like I was struggling to, I always had friends, I never really had a problem thinking about it, but I was really bright, I had got a really high reading level, I was much happier just, Mum and Dad just called me his little bookworm, you know, I was happy with a book, but in the playground I was just, it was fear, I didn’t want to be an outcast like the outcasts. And I just felt like I was always grasping to feel fitting in. ‘Cos I always knew that I was different and I suppose everyone is, but I hadn’t found that niche yet. I was too young to find it, you know.
 

Loz felt different to everyone else as he was in a wheelchair and for a while he tried to conform...

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Loz felt different to everyone else as he was in a wheelchair and for a while he tried to conform...

Age at interview: 17
Sex: Male
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Being in the wheelchair especially made me feel, ‘cos I was, I, as far as I could tell I was mainly the only one who was actually in a wheelchair in, in college, apart well, there was two other girls that were in wheelchairs but they never, well I never saw them at all. They were, it was as if they didn’t really exist, that someone had made them up to make me feel alright. But I, I eventually did see them from time to time, I said hi but, still didn’t really make me feel any better. I always felt I was a sort of, I don’t know, not able to be every, be everyone else. I mean I always wanted to sort of conform but I realised at the end of, towards the sort of like three quarters of the year in, I found out that I don’t need to, I can be myself around other people and not want to be like them, getting into sort of all the drinking, the drugs that everyone else was doing.
 
I never wanted to do that any sort of stuff anyway, and I hand on my heart never tried it either and I was, I was just, I just felt stupid for wanting to do it anyway, but. It was a, it was quite a sort of a rough sort of time though I gave, I gave myself mostly I think. And I, and every so often I go into hospital and that made me feel even worse because I was cut off from everybody else and all my friends and, and that was when I was in [hospital name], fantastic hospital, best, best I’ve ever been in, but I, I still felt sort of segregated from everybody else if you know what I mean.

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.
 

When her mum and step dad split up, Kirstie had to tell the Education Welfare Officer which...

When her mum and step dad split up, Kirstie had to tell the Education Welfare Officer which...

Age at interview: 16
Sex: Female
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So I told them [Education Welfare Office] that I wanted to live with him [dad], but then, I was a bit shy so when my Mum come to pick us up from school, she was like, “Who did you tell them you wanted to live with?” And my little sister went straight away, she went, “Oh I said I wanted to live with my Dad.” And she looked at me she went, “Who did you say you wanted to live with?” I was like, “I said I wanted to live with you.” She said, “Did you really?” I was like, “Yeah.” And I couldn’t tell her that I’d said I wanted to live with him. And then about a week later, the education welfare officer comes round again to check his house, and my Mum’s house, and they was like looking at them both, and then they sat down and we had a chat with my Mum and we had a chat with him, and the education, I remember to this day the Education Welfare Officer told my Mum that I’d said I wanted to live with him. And I literally ran upstairs crying and I pushed my bed in front of my door so she couldn’t come in. And she was just talking to me through the door for about half an hour, I was just like sobbing my heart out. She was like, “Kirstie it doesn’t matter, I understand why you’d say it, blah de blah blah,” ‘cos he promises we’ll go on holidays during school time like, and everything, and obviously compared to what my Mum’s saying, you will have to go to school, you will have to do your homework, living with him was gonna sound so much better.
 

As both her dad and stepdad left her at a young age, Kirstie has always had a problem trusting men.

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As both her dad and stepdad left her at a young age, Kirstie has always had a problem trusting men.

Age at interview: 16
Sex: Female
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And I love him [stepdad] to bits now, but I’m still scared they’re going to split up again, ‘cos I’ve seen my Mum do it, and, she got married to every single one of them and they always split up.
 
But , when it started going well, like I can never, for some reason I can never have all the parts of my life going right at the same time. I don’t know why, but since my Dad and then my Stepdad, I’ve never had, I’ve always had a problem with men always, I don’t trust them and I don’t like them. It’s always been like that. And all my teachers at school, all the male ones I had problems with. I used to argue with them, swear at them and I’d get myself suspended, and my Mum would go mad. But I just got into this cycle, I do not like men at all.
 

Jack’s dad was in prison and Jack felt he couldn’t ever tell his friends what was going on as...

Jack’s dad was in prison and Jack felt he couldn’t ever tell his friends what was going on as...

Age at interview: 17
Sex: Male
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He [dad] went straight to, straight to prison for round about a year and half or something like that. And you know he, we used to write, and write to one another and stuff like that, and you know and that that was incredibly dark you know just, receiving a letter and knowing that it was from your father in prison. Not only that but I also go to a private school which the RAF fund, a fund pays for, which is very nice and, because of our condition and everything like that. But I forgot what the point I was on…, but, I also go to a private school as well, so a lot of, I hate that, I hate to be so generalising and stereotyping but a lot of families there are perfect you know, they have mothers and fathers, and earn lots of money and they have good childhoods and they have you know, and so, and I was, and I was you know, I couldn’t ever tell my friends really, you know my father was in prison.
 
My relationship with my father, another problem is that my sister and my Mum obviously wanted no contact with him at all, I completely respect that. And I feel very guilty sometimes and I felt very guilty in the past staying in contact with him, just because it’s hard, when I think back to when everything happened, that big, that big father and son bond that we did have kind of stopped us from , it stopped us from just not contacting each other.
 
I mean I feel I used to call him up at 11 o’clock when I couldn’t sleep and say, “Look I can’t sleep, what, what can I do, what can I do?” You know, and he helped me out. But, however this whole feeling of betrayal to my Mum and my and my Sister, well you know that that makes it even more difficult so whenever I do speak to him, it’s very limited. The relationship we have I think is we don’t give each other that much so, in case anything does happen so we don’t lose that much, if you know what I mean.
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.
 

Lee wanted to leave home but he needed to stay to make sure his mum was safe.

Lee wanted to leave home but he needed to stay to make sure his mum was safe.

Age at interview: 17
Sex: Male
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Yeah it was arguing, he [step dad] was being like, he was making like me do stupid things and then making a joke of it, and then it was like tormenting me, and everything like that, and at like the age of 10 until about the age of 14, 15 I used to like run away from home every day. I’d get up like 5 in the morning, get something to eat, walk out, and then not come back until like half three the next morning or something like that, but like there was times when I did that and I used to hang around in my front garden at night and look through the kitchen window, and I’d see my Mum crying and everything.
 
And even though I didn’t want to go back in, but seeing my Mum sitting there crying just made me walk in. And then when I got back in it was all the same again and like arguing and stupid jokes and sending me to the room, all this rubbish. And that just went on for like a while and stuff.

Quite a few people had experienced bereavement in their childhood, and some had lost several family members.
 

B has experienced bereavement from a young age. She lost two younger sisters at a young age and...

B has experienced bereavement from a young age. She lost two younger sisters at a young age and...

Age at interview: 19
Sex: Female
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I think they [mental health problems] probably started like between the ages of 15 and 16, sort of that area ‘cos that was when sort of things started to go pear shaped with my family and stuff and… Although I think it might have started earlier on because, from like and early childhood I had lost a lot of people when I was really young. Like I lost two younger sisters, two years in a row like when I was in ’96 and ’97, I can’t remember how old I was then but... And then after that I think three years later, or something like that my Grandma died as well, and then like after then it just seemed like people kept dying, but ‘cos I’ve got like a really huge family from my Dad’s side and my Mum’s side, and my Dad comes from a family of 11. Well they used to be 11 and my Mum comes from a family of 7, so it’s quite a huge family, so, like people have been, like people have died and stuff like that.
 
And also like because like the beginning of this year I’ve like lost three like relatives, I’ve like lost, my Uncle died in May, the beginning of May, and my Auntie died in July and my Grandmother on my Dad’s side died this August, then, it all makes you think “Why are they all dying sort of like, a month in between and stuff, and what’s going on?” And you sort of start to wonder about it, and then you also think, “Well, I’m still alive and I can still make a difference, and I’m sure they’ll have loved to see me do this,” and so that sort of makes you carry on and stuff.
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.
 

Blondel leap frogged from childhood to being an adult and a mother. She says she’s missed out on...

Blondel leap frogged from childhood to being an adult and a mother. She says she’s missed out on...

Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
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And I want her [daughter] to stay young for as, she can, you know for if she possibly can because I grew up too fast, and I think I just leap-frogged over adolescence and I never had the chance, never enjoyed it, never had time to get used to being a teenager and just jumped straight into adulthood and motherhood.
 
So even now you know it’s quite, when I’m feeling all these, you know different emotions and moods I think that it’s probably you know teenage years and adolescence catching up on me anyway. You know, I think that because I never went through that process like everyone else, ‘cos it was all, if I did it was very rushed, never had time to really know, from being a child to being a teenager, to being an adult, I, you know just like I said leap-frogged through all of it. So I sort of had to work back through it all you know on what would be normal for anybody else. It’s sort of been side tracked for me.
 
Do you feel like you’ve missed out on things?
 
Oh yeah definitely. Yeah I’d love to just have, I find it very hard to, to let go, you know and to, to relax and to enjoy myself and I’ve never been, I’ve always been the one that’s looked on at everybody else, you know, everyone’s having fun, I’ve stood at the side watching and I’ve really secretly liked to be the one that’s you know that’s in there with the, all the fun, but, I feel quite reserved and I think that’s the depression that’s done it to me, you know, but feel like I can’t join in, I don’t have the confidence to, to get involved.
 

As a child Ruby’s family spent long periods of time as part of a religious community. She wasn’t...

As a child Ruby’s family spent long periods of time as part of a religious community. She wasn’t...

Age at interview: 27
Sex: Female
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I remember believing hook, line and sinker everything they [adults in a religious community] told me. In that I was a terrible person and the only way that I could fix that was to do my work there. But and it sounds daft, I do remember having some good times, like after every prayer meeting there was an adventure playground in the woods next door, so like we’d go, you know, it sounds ridiculous but I didn’t know anything different at the time, and you got to go and play on the swings, and all those drop slides, and so as a kid you don’t really realise the extent of what’s going on, it’s all a bit make believe and funny like. But we weren’t allowed to watch TV, we weren’t allowed My Little Ponies ‘cos they weren’t created in God’s image of a horse, does God have any pink ponies. I don’t know. Well you can’t have that one. Loads of stuff like that, just like, by the time I emerged when I was like 14 I was completely baffled as to the world around me because I’d been brought up in this ridiculous environment where all the rules or normality did not apply. I mean now it’s just hilarious looking back it’s like, Mum and Dad obviously found it when they were very vulnerable, at a certain time and me and my sister got dragged into it.

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”.
 

As a child, Blondel witnessed her dad being abusive towards her mum. She says she never really...

As a child, Blondel witnessed her dad being abusive towards her mum. She says she never really...

Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
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I noticed it [feeling low] just started quite young, I’d say from my childhood. Sort of remember being, maybe around 6 or 7 when I started to feel it, quite a young age, obviously I wouldn’t know at that age what depression was, but I felt quite sad, quite, felt like I was carrying you know, quite a burden and my Mum’s pain seemed, I seemed to reflect what my Mum was going through. And she, she was in an abusive relationship with my Dad. And obviously I was there to witness that, and I felt I had to grow up quite quickly. And you know I had to be an adult and in a way I was kind of looking after my Mum. And, you know even to this day we’re quite similar and we sort of feed off of each other, you know, the pain, we’re quite close.
 
So everything that she went through, I went through it as well. So it was quite hard growing up. I didn’t really feel like a child, and especially at school, I found it very hard to you know participate in play. You know when I was young, I’d just, it irritated me and I didn’t want to be, didn’t feel like a child, I felt like an adult. And people used to say “You’re a child with an adult’s head,” you know? A child’s body, and that’s how I was. It was just it was quite hard growing up.
 
And we had a lovely childhood, as with, we always had you know anything that anyone could ever want for, but the emotional stability it was all up in the air.
 

Jo felt extremely alone as a child. Her mum could be aggressive and abusive towards her and Jo...

Jo felt extremely alone as a child. Her mum could be aggressive and abusive towards her and Jo...

Age at interview: 25
Sex: Female
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I remember being extremely alone as a child, just like, just always alone and even if my parents were there they wouldn’t really, like my Dad just didn’t know how to engage with me like if I would ask him for something he would want me to be independent, that’s what he, like that’s what he’s still saying now. So, it would just be, “Oh yeah, like I will just tell you how to do it, and then you can do it by yourself.”
 
And my Mum would work a lot and then come home and be really stressed out, and would like either be, either feel guilty with really extremely loving, or just like shout and be really aggressive and abusive. And I remember like my brother was still there, and my brother’s seven years older than me, so it wasn’t really like a, there’s a big age gap and like we wouldn’t normally have kind of socialised with each other. But I remember for instance just saying, “Any kind of attention would be good,” so like I would just provoke my brother because like even if he would be like nasty to me, or shout at me, or like hit me, at least it’s still, it still attention, it’s still somebody kind of engaging with you.
 

Helena grew up with an abusive dad.

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Helena grew up with an abusive dad.

Age at interview: 19
Sex: Female
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I was around fourteen when things started getting bad at home and school My dad got ill and became abusive to me and my mum (he’d been quite bad before but with his illness this worsened) and would constantly put us down and even at one time was violent. With everything at home my anxiety escalated and I found it increasingly difficult to face going to school. I was also at this point been bullied quite badly.
 
Through years 8 and 9 I started missing a lot of school. This prompted threatening letters from heads of year and visits from the education welfare officer. My dad was getting worse in his abuse and arguments between my parents happened daily.
 
My dad still lives with us even though my mum and dad don’t get on, as I said, complicated. My dad is ill, and as a result has taken all his bitterness about that out on me and my mum. I can’t stand my dad because of the things he’s done to me in the past. He puts me and my mum down and is very insulting. He’s just a very unpleasant character to live with. I ignore him most of the time but my mum and dad are always screaming at each other which is very difficult to live with.
 
I don’t get on with my dad’s side of the family because they don’t understand how cruel their son has been to me and my mum. They also don’t seem to care what we’ve gone through and how we’ve suffered because of his reactions to his illness.  
 

B experienced abuse during her childhood. (Read by an actor).

B experienced abuse during her childhood. (Read by an actor).

Age at interview: 19
Sex: Female
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I was also worried about my GCSE’s and that, and I stopped going out with my friends, and you just sort of went downhill from there, and so that school got a bit worried and they told my Mum about it, and my Mum tried to talk to me but I didn’t really want to talk to anybody about it [abuse], and then I’d go into school but I wouldn’t do any work. I would just sit there and most of the time I would probably even, I’d just spend it at the front office just sitting there and not doing anything. I’d pop into anyone, so they referred me to Connexions and I didn’t really talk to them either, and then they referred me to the school counsellor, and finally I managed to tell her and then obviously they had to involve the right authorities, and like social services and the police and then like, I think, think the thing that was the most difficult to do was when my Mum turned round and said, “I don’t believe you and stuff.” And that sort of just, that just sort of pressed the button inside me, and I just became really self destructive and... I’d ran away from home and take overdoses, and I was like in and out of A&E.
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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