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Depression and low mood (young people)

What does depression feel like: social & physical experiences

Here young people talk about the social and physical side of experiencing depression; how they experienced depression in relation to social situations and people, and the various physical symptoms they had.

Some people may find the experiences discussed here upsetting or unsettling.

Social experiences
Almost all people described depression as manifest in relation to other people. Loneliness - feeling totally alone in the world - was very common. Many said they’d felt that “the whole world was against” them, they felt rejected and that everyone just wanted to “hurt” them. They felt “isolated” or “separated” from everyone and everything else. A few described feeling claustrophobic and avoided crowds. Some said they were paranoid and always felt that people were talking about them.
 

Blondel felt very unsociable and was scared of what people would think of her. She says she...

Blondel felt very unsociable and was scared of what people would think of her. She says she...

Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
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Even now I can manage to mask my feelings so it’s quite hard to you know, especially new people, and that you know, people that you just meet to let them know, I call it the dark side, you know, the real you, what you’re hiding. But it’s very hard to, for you, you know it’s, people don’t want to be around you if you’re very negative and quite down, you know, if you seem to pull other people down so, you try to be cheery and you know, and not let it affect you. But sometimes it gets where you can’t hide it anymore, and I think I got to that point where I couldn’t pretend, I couldn’t, couldn’t carry on, couldn’t make out that you know, that I was feeling normal, and that, that, you know that something wasn’t going on, I was in it for too long, I think I must’ve gone for about 8 years before I said anything or before anybody picked up on it. And it sort of left me with, with a scar for life now, I think. It’s, you know it’s taken so much of my life away, the depression, because I feel like I’ve had no life, because it’s all been, I have I’ve lost control, and it’s that learning to take control back.
 
And the depression it affected me to such a point where I was, before I had my daughter, where not just because of my illness, but with the depression as well, I didn’t want to leave the house, didn’t want to, became very unsociable, was constantly just upstairs in my room listening to music, I was you know, quite tearful all the time, got stressed out one minute, down the next. I mean my moods even now, you know my moods are quite unpredictable from one day to the next.
 
But, I feel like the depression already isolated me and then I isolated myself even more through fear of you know people seeing the truth, seeing what was happening to me, and it was already quite scary. And I suppose the prospect of other people, you know seeing me in, in such a way, would you know, I didn’t know how people were gonna react and I didn’t want people to think I was crazy you know, even though I felt like I was slightly losing my mind, because you know it, with the OCD and everything it’s you know it’s strange, it’s strange to watch, but if I was to watch myself back you know, the sort of routines and rituals I do, to get through things.
 

Craig describes how depression made him feel “isolated, rejected and paranoid”.

Craig describes how depression made him feel “isolated, rejected and paranoid”.

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Male
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Your head’s always down, you’re always kind of hunched back. You know, you don’t really want to talk to anyone, you know, if you’re into the metal you know your, your hoods up, and your hiding, almost hiding your face as well as your mood from people, ‘cos it’s like, it’s almost a crime to say, “Don’t want you to look at me, don’t want you to talk to me.” You know? “Don’t want you to have anything to do with me, just leave me alone.” Kind of. You feel isolated, rejected, you know, the abandoned one in the corner kind of feeling, and it’s always kind of your body is just a bit you know, for want of a better word “blergh.” You know it’s just lethargic, and, tired and aches and pains and you can’t think, you can’t describe it ‘cos you know, you’re 15, 16, you shouldn’t have aches and pains, you sound like your 50, 60. You know what I mean.
 
And it just feels like the whole world’s against you. And you’re so paranoid that everybody’s talking about you, especially when you walk down the street, you’re like, “oh what did you say”. “Oh, sorry mate don’t know you.”
 
And you get on a bus and there’s like everybody’s all looking at you as soon as you step on that bus, or you go to a film, everybody’s watching you, everybody, and it’s not. It’s like I, when I went to a club, I went in, I was with my mates and had a couple of drinks and it kicked in. And I was just like, “What’s everybody watching me for? What’s everybody watching me for?” I had to be taken outside to just calm down. And luckily I was with my mates who, who understand everything about it, so that was, that was alright.
 

Erika-Maye avoids crowds and hates cinemas, restaurants and pubs.

Erika-Maye avoids crowds and hates cinemas, restaurants and pubs.

Age at interview: 17
Sex: Female
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I just don’t like being around huge crowds of people. Sometimes I feel like they’re staring at me, but this was even before I had the Chronic Fatigue I’d either, sometimes I felt that they were staring at me, sometimes I’d just feel really claustrophobic, ‘cos there’d just be too many people. In some situations it would be okay, that’s the really strange thing, I mean, when I used to go down on my Cadet courses and stay on HMS Bristol there could be loads of us there and I’d be alright with that because I guess I knew because we are all this same kind of thing, all there for the same kind of reason. So that was okay. I probably actually feel better if I’m out with the Cadets than if I’m out be myself because I’m in uniform and I’m being someone else in a way. But being in a crowd, I try not to go out by myself anymore because I just feel like, I feel tiny almost that everyone’s kind of just crowding in around me…
 
I mean there doesn’t have to be that many people there that it will feel like hundreds. I hate restaurants and pubs and things like that, cinemas [laughs]. I made an exception about the cinema to go and see Mamma Mia ‘cos I had Abba and I knew it would sustain me. I just find it very difficult being around people.
Commonly, people felt unable to trust other people. Although they suffered loneliness and feelings of rejection, at the same time they wanted to be just left alone.
 
Difficulties in relating to the “rest of the world” commonly affected people’s view of themselves. Most described having very poor self-esteem, feeling “worthless” and lacking confidence. Feelings of guilt were very common; they blamed themselves for anything that went wrong and felt that they deserved to be punished. Some said this led to them seeking attention and approval, for example at home or school, to validate themselves. Many even felt that they didn’t deserve help for their problems and that they’d just be wasting the doctors’ time.  For more see our section on ‘Dealing with health professionals’.
 

Ruby used to feel everything was her fault and that she was “utterly purposeless”.

Ruby used to feel everything was her fault and that she was “utterly purposeless”.

Age at interview: 27
Sex: Female
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I just did not care. I genuinely did not believe that there was any reason for me not to be punished by something every second of the day. I felt like everything… internally and externally was indeed my fault, and I was a fuck up, and it was my fault I didn’t have any friends, and yeah, so it was like punish myself in any which way I could. That was the kind of the objective then as opposed to it serving the purpose of going to sleep, or staying slim or anything like that, it was just habitual, it was, there wasn’t, I genuinely believed that there wasn’t a place for me on earth. Sounds a bit dorkish, but, like I genuinely believed that I was utterly, utterly purposeless and that all I did was bring other people down or have negative effects on other people and stuff. And they always you know you go into therapy and they tell you, “Oh let’s look at the evidence.” And it was like, the evidence is there, I have no friends, I mean, you know? So all the time I believed it, I genuinely believed that I deserved to be punished. Something that I still struggle with now, but certainly not in the same level. But…

Physical experiences
Many described physical signs and symptoms including aches and pains, distorted visual perception of the world, tiredness, too much or too little sleep, shakes and tremors, dizziness and increased heart rate. A couple of people described a sensation of physical and mental “pain” or “pressure” in their heads.

“When I feel really ill with depression, like I feel shaky and I could wake up in the morning feeling it, I could feel shaky and dizzy and my temples will really hurt.”

 

Tom describes his changed perception of the world. He compares this to living in a video game.

Tom describes his changed perception of the world. He compares this to living in a video game.

Age at interview: 21
Sex: Male
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And then, I don’t know what it was, it was just kind of all of a sudden like, I never knew I had depression at all, I didn’t know what it was, I thought oh you know, I’ve got some kind of like, I don’t know. Just felt a bit weird in a bit of a trance, almost like, in a bit of a bubble. Do you know what I mean? Just like things didn’t really seem the same, the key into your perspective has changed. Your perspective on life has changed which is a bit strange.
 
So, you know, you’re looking at things and you think this is a bit weird, this is, what’s going on here you know, and it’s really hard to describe that, because it’s obviously very subjective, you know people, people’s experiences are different but,
 
Absolutely.
 
I’d look at things and it would almost seemed like you were in some kind of video game, like you know this, the things are super vivid and you’re like, “Okay,” so then you’re in meetings and you’re thinking, “What the hell is going on here? This isn’t right. This is…” you know you’d feel a bit strange, people don’t look the same, anyway so I was thinking, “Well there’s something wrong with my eyes or something, what’s going on here?” ‘Cos I didn’t, I literally didn’t know anything about depression.
 

Jack describes how his vision and sight can be distorted.

Jack describes how his vision and sight can be distorted.

Age at interview: 17
Sex: Male
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What sometimes I get, I don’t know I really hard to explain, but whenever I’m under conventional lights such as this, or some lighted room like those crappy you know just long lights you know in classroom, sometimes when I’m, I think am I depressed, depression and stuff and when I, once I’ve done that suddenly everything just goes a little bit weird. I see more shadows, everything looks slightly greener, everything looks so much more darker, it’s very weird but I know it’s, I feel as though, I don’t know, it’s really hard to describe. But I don’t know, maybe it’s ‘cos, maybe it’s just a weird focus thing but I just feel as though the depression kind of really just really seeps into reality. So, I find that really hard to describe, but that sounds a little crazy.
 

Craig describes the 'mental pain' he had.

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Craig describes the 'mental pain' he had.

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Male
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And then there was, you know, there’s mental pain. Mental pain is difficult because sometimes it feels physical, you know, like a, like an electric bolt going through your brain, just like a great big like two second migraine, it just hits you. And sometimes it’s just a, it’s you know it’s in your head and you now there’s no pain but it’s like a constant thudding, in, inside your head and just around you skull and all that. So that’s the kind of the pain side of it.

A few people had noticed they were more susceptible to getting ill and said they always had a cold or an infection. For a couple, their weakened immune system was connected to an eating disorder and not eating well. One man experienced overheating and said it’s likely to be caused by both depression and the medication he was on.

 

Overheating is another physical symptom of depression for Tom. He says it has “a major impact” on...

Overheating is another physical symptom of depression for Tom. He says it has “a major impact” on...

Age at interview: 21
Sex: Male
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Another symptom actually, which is worth noting is over heating. I don’t know whether you’ve heard this before, and people, people take the piss out of me for it, but yeah. That’s a classic, yeah. As soon as I, as soon as I get in everyone knows, yeah, and lectures and I’ve known, people next to me have got a coat on or whatever, it’s winter, they’ve got this uni heats the building really hot but anyway, I’m sat there like in a t-shirt just overheating, like, taking my socks and shoes off ‘cos I’m like, I’m boiling and can’t concentrate, and my concentration suffers as a result of over heating as well, but it does suffer sometimes when you’re like, during the day before like, before you’re properly wake up you know.

 

It does, it’s a major impact. ‘Cos you’re sitting there in, you know, in a time where you need to concentrate, take in information, or especially when you need to present information. You know you’re sitting in a meeting with you know your manage hrs and you know 30 people and you’ve got to present on a topic. It’s 9 o’clock in the morning, you are exhausted despite trying to go to bed at 10 o’clock, and you’re over heating, you can’t concentrate. I’m just, it does have a massive impact on your day to day wellbeing.
 

Darren describes pseudo seizures caused by depression. He also has epilepsy.

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Darren describes pseudo seizures caused by depression. He also has epilepsy.

Age at interview: 21
Sex: Male
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I had quite a few [pseudo seizures] that day, and they only happened after the surgery. So when I first had it was in this house yeah, and they thought I was off having a proper seizure, and when I was having them in hospital they thought I was having fits as well. And I didn’t know what was happening either. It’s just, it was weird. It’s just kind of like you lose control of your body but you know, you know what’s happening and, well, just oh it’s weird.
 
What happens in a pseudo seizure? Is it different to an epileptic seizure?
 
Well yeah, yeah. ‘Cos I know what’s going on but I can’t control my body and I was just kind of, well I was just basically you know like that and like that and, my Mum and Dad first thought it was a, a seizure but I told them, “None of them weren’t” I knew what was going on, but I don’t know what’s going on. And so they rung the hospital and I went in again, that’s when I first went in. I kept having them, they were like, “Yeah, he’s in a deep depression, he’s having pseudo seizures.” I kept having them for a while, but they stopped eventually. Yeah.

Some explained their experience of depression in terms of functions - difficulty sleeping, needing to sleep too much, being unable to eat, work or get out of bed.

Many people had had severe sleep problems. Some struggled to get to sleep, or kept waking up during the night, others said they could’ve slept all the time. Their sleeping rhythm was messed up and one young man said he’s “almost nocturnal”. Disrupted sleep also meant they always felt tired during the day which made going to school or work very hard or, for some, impossible.
 
A few people pointed out though that sleeping really helped them and it was one of the few things they could do to feel a bit better. 
 

There’s a connection between sleep and depression. Sleeping was a coping strategy for Tom as it...

There’s a connection between sleep and depression. Sleeping was a coping strategy for Tom as it...

Age at interview: 21
Sex: Male
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What I did get and I still get now , is kind of, is to get quite tired, and I think one of my kind of coping strategies you know on the basis that I have depression is, is to kind of sleep during the day. I don’t want to sleep during the day, but like it’s more of like a, even if you’re not tired if you think, “Oh I’d really love to just have a nap.”
 
You know where most people’d be like, “I don’t, what the hell do you want to go to bed for now?” You know you’re awake, having a good day or whatever, and you just and you have that desire just to go, “Oh.”
 
I think it’s almost like you just turn life off for an hour. You go to sleep, turn life off for an hour and you get back up again, you know start afresh for the day. I don’t know what it is it’s just, I used to have that all the time, I used to come in from school and then I’d have no desire to do my homework, that’s normal, but I used to just go and just go and have a nap and then wake up again and it doesn’t mean you feel any better after that, but you know.
 
And people just say, “Oh you know I had a nap then,” but I, nearly every day have to have one just like go to sleep for half an hour or whatever, you know, and it is, it does annoy me actually, ‘cos you don’t, I don’t want to it’s just you have this overwhelming desire to go and have a sleep.
 
And it’s, I think like, I’ve thought about, I’ve thought about it a lot and it’s like a coping strategy, it’s kind of the way it shows itself when you’re okay you know and , when you’re kind of half asleep, you experience almost like a kind of anxiety in your chest, when you’re like trying to wake up or whatever or you know, have that, a very similar feeling, so I think especially you know going into the technicalities of depression, serotonin in your brain and how it’s governed and how it governs your day to day activities, there is definitely a connection between sleep and depression.
 

The usual relaxation techniques didn’t help Holly’s sleep problems.

The usual relaxation techniques didn’t help Holly’s sleep problems.

Age at interview: 18
Sex: Female
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I just used to sort of watch movies at silly hours of the morning and stuff, but that just changed so I don’t suppose there is anything to help you sleep. I mean things like sort of having a bath before bed and, things that most people do they never seemed to work. And a lot of people that I’ve met that have had depression have found that as well, you know, that the normal relaxation things didn’t work. And someone suggested once before that a kick boxing before you go to bed is quite useful, I’m not sure why, but apparently so. I didn’t really try that one. But I don’t think there was anything that helped me sleep itself.
 
And is that better now?
 
That is better now, it took a long time to get better.
 

Gemma thought she was having a nervous breakdown. Sleep was her only relief.

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Gemma thought she was having a nervous breakdown. Sleep was her only relief.

Age at interview: 19
Sex: Female
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My January re-sits were when I started to realise that something was wrong. Instead of revising, I would just sit on my bedroom floor staring into space because I couldn’t bring myself to work because I knew I would give up and cry. I thought I was having a nervous breakdown. I felt trapped in school, in my part time job and after my re-sits my attendance in both fell greatly. The more I didn’t go, the more I punished myself telling myself I was a failure, saying to myself 'how come everyone else can and you cant?'. I just wanted to escape and I found that escape through sleeping. It was the only time my body could relax and my thoughts wouldn't be on how I could get through the next day.
 

Having a daughter forces Blondel to function and to get out of bed, even on the worst day.

Having a daughter forces Blondel to function and to get out of bed, even on the worst day.

Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
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I try not to let it affect my daughter, and that’s why, you know that’s why I’m in counselling anyway. But, it’s hard to you know to separate both one, both lives, you know both worlds they collide sometimes, you try to keep them very separate.
 
You know it’s like okay, well this is how I behave when I’m a Mum, and you know this is how I behave with my depression, but sometimes when the two come together it can be quite catastrophic you know, it’s hard. And, I’d say the say it affects me just sometimes where I’m feeling quite low and you know quite weepy, and not feeling, you know in a, in a good mood and I don’t want to be around anybody, I don’t you know, just want to be by myself, and I’m, it doesn’t really ever take anything, it’s not like anything’s necessarily happened, it’s just I’m not having a good day, or I could just wake up and feel completely rotten and really unsociable, and you know, and you can’t cut yourself off from your child. You can’t cut yourself off from a toddler; they need your attention you know, constantly.
 
And you have to accept that you know, regardless as you said, you know depression or no depression, you have to get on with it. You have to, you know, you just have to bite your tongue, and suppress these feelings and you know it is very hard when you, you know your emotions are so visible, you know, It’s not in your mood, if you know on your face and just how you, you generally are. So I do battle with that quite a lot, you know ‘cos I don’t want her to, I don’t want her to suffer because of the way I’m feeling.
 
But it is hard to keep them separate sometimes. And yeah especially days where I just you know, I feel rotten and I just want to stay in bed because I feel that low, you know and, I have to carry on, but in some ways that’s a good thing because, if not having her, I probably would spend all day in bed.
Experience of depression all encompassing
A few people said it was hard for them to describe what experiencing depression feels like through “meaningful words” which hadn’t been used before. The experience of depression was all encompassing, affecting their whole being and every aspect of their life.
 
“It’s like one of them games, where you get the hammer and you get the caterpillars on air, where they pop up. There was always one up; you can’t always have them all down, never. It doesn’t work”
 

Tom thought he was going insane when his depression “erupted.”

Tom thought he was going insane when his depression “erupted.”

Age at interview: 21
Sex: Male
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This like this depression, which I didn’t know what it was, just literally erupted. And, I was in a seriously bad place, it just like, couldn’t do anything, was just house bound, just in floods of tears, couldn’t sleep. I had severe anxiety, retching, just like you know you’d end up in a ball on the floor, just like going hysterical. Just literally you go, you’d get, you get panic attacks. That was the first stage, you get panic attacks. You know when you’re ambiguous about the idea, so panic attacks start. And panic, panic attacks are relatively you know amicable compared to like, compared to the next stage which was just complete despair, and you just, you just don’t know what’s going on. It’s undiagnosed and you’re thinking, you know, crap this is, this is, you know a mental ill, you don’t know what’s going on, are you going insane, thinking what is this all about?
 
And then I thought, you see all these horror stories and you think, you know, people being sectioned, taken out of society and just you know for insanity, and just… anyway, I spoke with the GP and he was really good, he was saying, “People that go insane,” which is your main concern at the time, you know. “People that go insane don’t know they’re going insane.” And it’s the opposite so the very fact that you’re extremely aware of what’s happening, is just the biggest indicator to me to say that you’re not. And yeah, so he was 100% certain it wasn’t that.
 
 

Jo says depression can manifest in random ways; outbursts of anger, difficulty concentrating,...

Jo says depression can manifest in random ways; outbursts of anger, difficulty concentrating,...

Age at interview: 25
Sex: Female
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And then I would suddenly like have just anger outbreaks. Like, I don’t know, in political discussions, or I don’t know just arguments and like sometimes the arguments would be fine and I’d go either back down if somebody was more aggressive than me, that would be like, I would very easily just be incapable to say anything, if somebody was really aggressive towards me. Or if I felt that I kind of have the upper hand, like if somebody wasn’t that aggressive like I would sometimes just be really, really aggressive and I would just have like these outbreaks of rage, that seemed to be irrelevant, seemed to not have anything really to do with what we talked about. Because like no matter how passionate you feel about political subject, it shouldn’t be enough to suddenly shout at someone,
 
Because just like that is, that is an emotional thing to do, it is not about, like nobody will understand you better when if you shout at them. And everybody really knows that.
 
Yeah I just like then, like we had problems to concentrate, Sleeplessness, and yeah just like I think like yeah, and then I went to a stage which was just like severe instability in the sense of I would either have a lot of energy to do so many things and just run away from everything, to yeah, phases of I couldn’t sleep, I would watch a lot of TV and stay up all night, sleep all day. Like the reversal of the sleeping pattern. And get ill a lot, so I would have bronchitis and tonsillitis sinuses, then I had glandular fever, kidney infection, yeah, like I would just get ill, and especially like the flu, I would just have flu like all the time. Yeah. So, that’s the main thing.

Depression couldn’t be cut out and separated from the complexity of their lives. Depression could also “manifest itself randomly”, in ways that some people didn’t always think were linked to low mood. Very commonly, people said that during times when they’d felt really low, they hadn’t been able to see any hope or even a slightest chance of a positive change. 

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

Last reviewed June 2017.

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