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Health and weight (young people)

Low moods, depression and weight

Most of the young people we talked to, told us that being seriously overweight had made them feel bad about themselves. People told us that they had been bullied because of their weight and many had felt ashamed of themselves or worthless at times. Some of the young people found ways of coping with bullying but most felt rejected and isolated.
 

Gemma felt negative about everything when she was being bullied but decided to speak out before things got too bad.

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Sex: Female
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And did you get some kind of comfort from eating then or?
 
You only get the comfort when you’re eating. And then once it’s gone, you just think, “Oh crap, I really wish I didn’t do that.” And then you put more heavy on yourself for doing it. So you feel good when you’re doing it, then afterwards you think, “Oh God. Why, why do I keep doing this to myself? Why, why can’t I just think of doing summat else?” And then it were always a lot of negatives for me, I saw everything as a negative; I saw life as a negative. I thought that I’d been put here to be punished.That’s, that’s really what I made myself believe, that I were just being punished for everything.
 
And then I realised that there were people out there worse off than me, you know? Being, I had the opportunities that I had to go and have this done, so really I’ve got to be grateful for what I’ve got, even though it’s not gonna, even though it’s not good, it could always be a lot better than some other people, so that’s really what I think of every day. And you go well, if I get bullied today and someone’s that’s gonna be bullied worse than me, for how they look and what they’ve been through.
 
So its… then another thing I am grateful that I had the opportunity to say out, because there’s people who keep it in their head and you hear a lot about suicide. Now I know I could’ve gone down that route, but I chose to speak out and that’s what helped me.So that’s a big bonus for me that, so that basically all I can say about that bit.
 

Rebecca firmly believes that her depression started after she developed anorexia.

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Age at interview: 18
Sex: Female
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And socially, I mean I didn’t have any friends. I couldn’t go out and do what kids do because I didn’t have the energy. Every, every bit of energy that I had, I was just like not really doing anything, just like thinking about ways I can get myself slimmer. Ways I could get myself better. I mean I did, I did get myself suicidal as well, because I didn’t want to be like that. But I didn’t know how, how else to be, it was the normal. And it was really bad really.
 
And so did the depression develop out of the anorexia or was, did you think you were feeling depressed before the anorexia started?
 
I think the depression probably developed out of the anorexia.  I’ve always throughout my childhood I was a lovely little girl, bubbly and everything. And after I got anorexic, I was happy with it for a bit. And then six months down the line I was like, “Nah, this isn’t right.” But I still didn’t want to change it. And then it was just like a cycle that I just got myself into. And I just really, I just lost everything really. Lost my whole self-esteem, my confidence, everything, and sunk into depression really. And I think it was because of the anorexia. Some people say that the depression came first, but I mean I don’t know. I believe it was the anorexia first.
 
And did you have any treatment for the depression?
 
Yeah. I went to see a counsellor. I had to see a counsellor once a week. For about three years. I saw a counsellor once a week, every week, under like a Children’s Services. I also had to go on antidepressants. They tried me on fluoxetine at first which is like it tries to balance out the chemicals in your brain. And that worked for about a year. But then I kind of grew immune to it and it didn’t work anymore. So then they put me on like a proper antidepressant. And they put me on the highest dose of that, the highest adult dose for that. And that started to work.  
Research has shown that obesity and depression often go together but it’s not easy to say for certain which happens first. Apart from getting bullied at school, some young people told us that their depression was triggered by things going wrong at home. Parents splitting up or having problems such as alcohol-dependency, were the kinds of things that had made them unhappy.
 

Olivia thinks she started cutting herself because she was afraid of rejection.

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Sex: Female
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I mean I started self-harming right at the beginning because of friendships and because this was back in year eight or something when it kind of all started and it was because of kind of bullying at school and because when you’re that age because you’re always falling out with friends and just having little petty arguments and things. But I mean, at the time none of that seemed like it was the cause, and because now I’m a lot older, and I’ve had chance to look back on things I realise that it’s... I think it had a lot to do with my biological dad because my mum’s married to my step-dad, and he’s kind of brought me up, but my real dad left when I was really young, so from having the chance to really think things over I think it’s because of that, because of his leaving and I have this fear of rejection. And so I think all of it kind of stems from that.
 
Okay and did people know about that..?
 
Not many people to start with and then my mum found out because she kind of noticed and that all led to me being taken to the doctor’s and then she referred me to a counsellor.
 
Obviously you were going through the bullying and stuff and then how did you all the sort of start the, the self-harming. How did it come about?
 
Because I knew that my best friend at the time had done it once, and I guess it was just I was really upset at the time and that. I don’t know. It just kind of... I just suddenly did it and it made me feel better.
 
Better in what way?
 
I guess, I guess it was like a release.
 
Okay. And so you started to see a counsellor. How old would you have been then?
 
I was about fourteen, fifteen.
Several people told us they became so depressed that they experimented with cutting/self-harming. One or two had considered suicide as a way out of their problems. Several young people had been so depressed that they had to be treated in hospital to make sure they didn’t try to harm themselves.
 

Sami hated herself and started visiting websites and chatrooms about self-harming.

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Sex: Female
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Yeah, when you’re really down and depressed inside you don’t want to hurt other people, so you’re like, “Oh yeah I’m absolutely fine, what are you on about? You’re making it all up. I’m absolutely fine.” And you like rally round and you make out you’ve got loads of friends, like, “Oh yeah, so and so called me, we’re going to go out for a drink.” Or, “We’re going to go out and grab a coffee or something like that.” And then I would end up going out, pretending to meet someone, and actually I’d just be on my own. And I’d just spend a couple of hours out in town on my own, just making sure that my Mum thought I was leading a normal life. So you know, just always smiling all the time. Texting people when you’re not actually texting anyone at all, you’re just constantly doing something with your phone, always on MSN talking to friends. I used to use chat rooms quite a lot, try and make some new friends. But generally weren’t in this country because then I didn’t have to meet up with them and, you know, incorporate them into my sad life.
 
And so why did you want to keep all this secret from your Mum?
 
Because my Mum suffers from depression as well, and I didn’t want to make her any worse, and I’ve always had the feeling that your family are there to support you whenever you need them, but to be honest I thought it’s my battle, I’ve got to fight it myself, they don’t need to be involved. And so I’ve always had that, “I’ll keep everything to myself.” I’m always quite a shadowy person, I don’t tell anyone anything, my feelings are always kept to myself.
 
But then if I was really down and depressed that day, I’d go on a self harm websites, I’d look at eating disorder pages and stuff like that and, like pictures of suicide and self-harm and just like, stuff like that.
 
There’s graphic pictures on there of how to do it, step by step guides, ways to hurt yourself emotionally, physically, all that, there’s like loads and loads of poetry on there, which teaches you how to hate yourself even more, on the self-harm website there’s nothing good, absolutely nothing good. It’s all a downwards spiral. There’s loads of stories from other people that have experienced self-harm, those who have written their suicide plans. There’s even chatrooms where you can form suicide pacts, so, not good.
 
And so how were you using these sites?
 
I was using them graphically not to show my pictures, but to see how other people had self-harmed. I also did join a suicide pact at that point when I was about twelve, however a couple of years’ later I realised that it was a silly idea and I got out of it, but it was a group of four or five of us, all in a suicide pact from Australia, USA and here in England that when one that, something got too bad for all of us then we would because all commit suicide together.
It’s extremely important to be able to get help if you’re feeling depressed but several young people found it hard to talk about their feelings. They said they had tried to hide their true feelings behind a mask of ‘fake happiness’ so their families didn’t realise how unhappy they were. Others had seen counsellors for depression and low moods and found counselling had worked for them.
 
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Alex tried hard to be the happy person her family wanted her to be.

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Age at interview: 17
Sex: Female
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Oh, my depression got quite bad. I don’t know my doctor did debate to put me in hospital because of my depression just to keep me safe really. That was another reason that I couldn’t really stay at school because I just couldn’t hold myself together in lessons and things, so. Yeah, he decided that it was probably best that I wasn’t there. Hmm. And there’s been a couple of times there the teacher that got me a referral has called my mum and asked her to come and pick me up and things. And, like, to keep me with her all day and things like that. So…
 
What was happening?
 
I’ve done things like to harm myself then, quite a few times. I think I tried to keep it to myself apart from that as well and that made it worse because then I did things that I probably wouldn’t have done if someone had known how I was feeling. And when I did tell people it made it harder in a way.
 
How did it make it harder?
 
I think just because I had been pretending to be OK and kind of trying not to worry them by saying everything was fine and then having to turn round and tell them that I had kind of always been lying to them and things weren’t fine and, yeah.
 
Were they a bit shocked?
 
Yeah, very shocked. I think there’s only a few people that I have actually told who, I think… I don’t think most people believed it when I told them, I don’t know, I think my mum still has difficulty believing that I ever felt as bad as I did.
 
Why do you think people have those doubts?
 
I don’t know, I think because I tried as hard as I possibly could to be sort of the happy person that they wanted me to be, who’s obviously like those sort of, I think they sort of thought, “Well, how could she have wanted to do what she did?” kind of thing, so yeah.
 
Originally it was, I just cut like a few times. The worst it got was overdosing. Not to the point where anything, I never like was hospitalised or anything, just, I mean nobody even found out that I had overdosed until a couple of weeks afterwards. So yeah. I had been pretending to be OK.
 

Sean says a youth programme is helping him keep busy so that he eats less and feels better about...

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Male
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Like sometimes you feel really depressed, you don’t want to go outside, you don’t want to see anybody, and then like, other times like you feel a bit more confident in yourself. I feel that food has a lot to do with that as well. Because like when you eat you feel, I think when you’re depressed you eat, and when like, when you are beginning to feel like less depressed the food could be like a comfort.
 
So its comfort?
 
Yes.
 
Comfort eating isn’t it? Okay. Were there other things going on in your life at that time, or you are feeling now?

 

You don’t need to tell me if you don’t want to, its just…
 
Yes, yes, like family problems.
 
Okay, okay, so that was contributing to you….
 
Eating.
 
Eating. Okay. Has that eased up a little bit?
 
Yes, a lot. Like no I’m trying to eat less, trying to be like talk about my problems, rather than trying to bury them in food. I try to like something different, rather than try and eat food to like hope it will go. I think food is like very dangerous coping mechanism.
 
I don’t eat as much food but when I’m at home with nothing to do I’ll just eat and eat and eat and no exercise. That’s what used to happen.
 
It used to happen, yes? Because now you seem to be quite busy?
 
Yes.
 
How often are you doing things with your youth programme?
 
Well right now we’re kind of busy because we’ve got the summer coming up. So I’ve being doing it two times a week and for the whole summer it will be like everyday. Yes, so right now I’m kind of busy but not as busy as I could be. But I’ll trying to exercise more so… 
The parents we talked to said it hurt them to see their children becoming lonely and depressed.
 

Dee says that her daughter has always struggled to control her eating and was treated for depression and anxiety.

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Age at interview: 47
Sex: Female
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I mean we just didn’t get it, you know, I take my hands up to that we just didn’t have any control, we didn’t have control, my parents didn’t have control, we allowed it to happen, and that, and then when it did really become a problem for her. I suppose it wasn’t until she was much older really because she wasn’t the sort of child that got bullied, she never got bullied at school, she never really had any... you know, she was always seen as the ‘big fat mama’ sort of thing, you know, and people quite liked the ‘big fat mama’ and she was, you know, sort of the other kids used to sort of if they’re with her at least she would look after them and she was always very supportive and motherly and that. But I think as she got older and she didn’t want to be seen always as the one that was there to look after everybody else and to be sort of, you know, the protector, and she sort of wanted to be sexy [name] and she wanted to be the one that people were attracted to and not the one that people came and spoke to about their problems you know.
 
And then it started to become an issue but then it’s always been a problem of control, and that sort of part of her thinking.. “I want to be, I want people to accept me the way I am” and so therefore not wanting to sort of take control because she’s sort of feeling, “Why should I? This is who I am and people should like me for who I am”. And then another part of her sort of recognising that actually “I should do something about it really because it’s unhealthy” and it is hard, it is much harder, and she’s always sort of struggled with those sort of two extremes really and she still continues to struggle with those two extremes. Now she’s in a position that she’s got a boyfriend so she’s feels comfortable, she’s got someone that likes her for who she is. She’s happy doing the things that she’s doing, and that, she feels, because there was a point were she did start shortly after, I can’t remember whether it was before she did “Transformed” or after, and that, but she developed sort of anxiety problems, and that, so she was suffering quite badly from depression and anxiety and she was on medication and she saw counsellors anyway a lot of it was put down to sort of, you know sort of weight issues and just not really facing up to things I suppose not really taking control, but she seems to have worked her way through that, she seems to have got over that. Because she’s very bright and I think she was, you know, she had a road set out for herself and I think she feels quite bad that she didn’t go to university at the time she was meant to go to university and follow that journey that she was meant to follow because all of a sudden everything came crashing down on her and she just couldn’t cope with being in a classroom situation, she just couldn’t cope with other people, she started to really, she wouldn’t even get on a bus at one point, and that, she got really, really, so I think she feels really hurt that that happened to her and she had to go through all of that.
Weight management and support programmes such as MEND and SHINE were recommended by several young people as well as parents. For links to more information about these programmes, visit our health & weight resources section. For more information about depression, visit our young people's experiences of depression and low mood section.

Last reviewed July 2017.

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