Depression & Bipolar

While we may think of low mood or other challenges as adult problems, they can affect people at any age. Children and teens can experience mental illnesses like depression. Sometimes it can be difficult for adults to understand how difficult children’s problems can be because we look at their problems through adult eyes. But the pressures of growing up can be very hard for some people. It’s important that we remind ourselves that while their problems may seem unimportant to us, they can feel overwhelming to young people. It’s important to take depression in young people seriously.

What is depression?

Depression is a type of mental illness called a mood disorder. Mood disorders affect the way you feel, which also affects the way you think and act. With depression, you may feel ‘down,’ hopeless, or find that you can’t enjoy things you used to like. Many people who experience depression feel irritable or angry. And some people say that they feel ‘numb’ all the time.

Recognizing depression in young people can be more difficult than recognizing depression in adults because young people experience so many changes. You may wonder what is ‘normal’ and what might be a problem. Also, many children and teens may not want to talk about their feelings, or may have their own explanation for their experiences. However, you may still notice the following changes.

Changes in feelings: You may show signs of being unhappy, worried, guilty, angry, fearful, helpless, hopeless, lonely, or rejected.

Changes in physical health: You may start to complain of headaches or general aches and pains that you can’t explain. You may feel tired all the time or have problems eating or sleeping. You may unexpectedly gain or lose weight.

Changes in thinking: You may say or think things that indicate low self-esteem, self-dislike or self-blame—for example, only talking or thinking about yourself negatively. You may have a hard time concentrating. If you are thinking about suicide, please contact a crisis number or adult you trust immediately. Kids Help Phone:  1-800-668-6868.

Changes in behaviour: You might withdraw from others, cry easily, or show less interest in sports, games, or other fun activities that you normally enjoy. You might over-react and have sudden outbursts of anger or tears over small incidents.

Some of these changes may be signs of mental health problems other than depression. It’s important to look at the bigger picture: how intense the changes are, how they impact your life, and how long they last. It’s particularly important to talk to an adult you trust if you’ve noticed several changes lasting more than two weeks.

Who does it affect?

Depression often starts between the ages of 15 and 30, but it can affect anyone—even teens and younger children. While we don’t know exactly what causes depression, many factors are likely at play. These include family history, personality, life events, and changes in your child’s body. Certain medications and physical illnesses can also contribute to depression.

What can I do about it?

Depression is very treatable. Children, teens, and adults can all recover from depression. For children and teens in particular, early treatment is important so you can get back to their education and other goals as quickly as possible.

Support for a young person who experiences depression may come from several different people and places. Your family doctor is often the first place you start, but you may also find support through people like psychiatrists, psychologists, counsellors, social workers, or peer support workers. Our community offers programs that support healthy children and build social connections—these are also helpful in preventing depression.

Schools are also an important place for all children. Your school offers programs that build skills, resiliency, and supports. Your school offers counselling and referrals to community services.

Counselling and support

Many children start with counselling like cognitive-behavioural therapy (or ‘CBT’). CBT teaches people how their thoughts, feelings, and actions work together. It also teaches skills such as healthy thinking, problem-solving, and stress management. CBT has been widely adapted for different groups and different situations, and it’s also useful to prevent depression.

Self-care strategies to stay well are important for everyone. This includes eating well, exercising, spending time with others, and making time for fun activities. Ask your care team for ideas. They can also recommend programs or services in your community that support healthy living.

Support groups may also be helpful. Support groups are an opportunity to share experiences and learn from others. There are also groups specifically for caregivers and family members.


You may also be prescribed an antidepressant if other options don’t seem to help. This is a group of medications used to treat depression and other mental illnesses. The decision to use medication can be complicated, especially if you are young. Medications can be helpful for some children, but there may be extra risks to consider. It’s important to have an honest discussion with your doctor so you know what to expect. Most professionals will consider medication for children under the age of 18 as a second option to other approaches, like counselling.

Do you need more help?

Contact Child, Youth and Mental Health Services at 250-342-4367 or contact your family doctor.

What is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder is another mental illness that affects mood. With bipolar disorder, people experience episodes of depression and episodes of mania. An episode of depression in bipolar disorder is the same as other types of depression. Mania is an unusually high mood for the person. People may feel like their thoughts are racing and may feel hyperactive. They may feel unrealistically confident, happy, or very powerful. Many people don’t sleep much when they experience mania. They may act without thinking and do risky things they wouldn’t normally do.

People usually experience periods of wellness between episodes of depression or mania. Episodes of depression or mania generally last for a period of time, though a small number of people may experience episodes that change quickly. The frequency and type of episode can also vary greatly. For example, some people experience many episodes of depression with only a few episodes of depression or mania. Others experience long periods of wellness with only a few episodes during their lifetime.

Who do they affect?

Depression and bipolar disorder can affect anyone. They are likely caused by many different factors that work together, including family history, biology, the environment, life experiences, personality and physical health problems.

What can I do about it?

Depression and bipolar disorder can be very challenging. Many people blame themselves for their feelings or wonder why they can’t just ‘get over it.’ Some feel like they have to live with difficult feelings because they worry about what others will think if they ask for help. The symptoms of the illnesses themselves can make it hard to seek help. Depression and bipolar disorder are real illnesses, and they deserve care and support. People can and do recover.

Counselling and support

A type of counselling called cognitive-behavioural therapy (or ‘CBT’) is common for mood disorders. It teaches you how your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours work together. It also teaches important skills like solving problems, managing stress, realistic thinking, and relaxation. CBT is often the first treatment to try if you experience mild or moderate problems with depression.

Support groups are also very important. Depression and bipolar disorder can isolate people from others, and isolation can add to mood problems. Support groups are a safe place to share your experiences, learn from others, and connect with people who understand what you’re going through.

Taking care of your well-being is especially important if you’re working through recovery, but this can be easy to overlook. Regular exercise can boost your mood and help you manage stress. Eating well and learning or maintaining healthy sleep habits are also very helpful. It’s always important to spend time on activities you enjoy, find relaxation strategies that work for you, and spend time with loved ones.


Antidepressants are the main kind of medication used to treat depression. There are many different classes and types of antidepressants, and they each work a little differently. However, antidepressants may not be the best option for bipolar disorder. Instead, bipolar disorder may be treated with mood stabilizers. While medication can help with some symptoms, they can’t get rid of the thinking patterns or beliefs that can drive mood problems. Most people use a combination of medication and counselling.

Other options

If depression is very serious or lasts for a long time, doctors may recommend electroconvulsive therapy (or ECT). ECT can be very helpful, especially when other treatments haven’t worked. There are other options such as light therapy for certain kinds of depression, but it’s best to talk with your care team before you try something new.

Relapse prevention

A big part of recovery is learning to recognize relapse. A relapse is when symptoms come back. Seeking help as early as possible can do a lot to reduce problems or challenges. Relapse prevention plans—prepared when you’re well—often map out early warning signs, list treatment strategies that have worked in the past, and assign tasks to key people who can support you in your recovery. Your plan may be a formal arrangement with your care team or an informal plan with loved ones.

How can I help a loved one?

When someone you love is diagnosed with depression or bipolar disorder, you may wonder how you can really help. You can offer support in different ways: you can offer emotional support or practical support to help make the journey less daunting. You can also help a loved one watch for signs of relapse or other difficulties, which is an important part of maintaining wellness.

People who experience an episode of depression may have thoughts of ending their life. This is a sign that a loved one needs extra support. If you believe that a loved one is in danger, don’t hesitate to call 911 or your local crisis line.

Here are some tips for supporting someone you love:

  • Learn more about the illness and listen to your loved one so you have a better understanding of their experiences.
  • Someone who experiences an episode of depression may want to spend time alone or act out in frustration, and this can hurt other people’s feelings. These are just symptoms—it isn’t about you.
  • Ask your loved one how you can help. Think about practical help with day-to-day tasks, too.
  • Make sure your expectations are realistic. Recovery takes time and effort. It means a lot when you recognize your loved one’s work towards wellness, regardless of the outcome.
  • Make your own boundaries, and talk about behaviour you aren’t willing to deal with.
  • Seek support for yourself and think about joining a support group for loved ones. If family members are affected by a loved one’s illness, consider family counselling.

Do you need more help?

Contact Child, Youth and Mental Health Services at 250-342-4367 or contact your family doctor.

This information provided by the Canadian Mental Health Association