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How can behaviour keep depression going?

Our behaviour can change for many reasons, and reduction of activity or withdrawal from certain types of activities is common in depression. When you’re depressed everything feels much more of an effort, and the symptoms of depression (eg fatigue, concentration problems) often make it harder to engage in activities. As we heard in Week 2, appetite and sleep can also be affected which have a knock on effect on energy levels.

However, while avoidance of activities can provide short term relief (eg the young person avoids having to make the extra effort involved in seeing their friends), in the long term this causes more problems as every time you avoid something, it gets even harder to do. This avoidance also means that the young person is missing out on opportunities that might boost their mood and encourage them to keep doing those activities (‘positive reinforcement’).

The other downside of avoiding social situations is that a teenager’s friends might feel they aren’t interested and stop making an effort to keep in touch. This can then make it even harder to stay connected with others. In this way, a young person’s behaviour can maintain depression symptoms and may make them worse.

A cycle with 6 circles: 1st circle- Feel low/ irritable, lack of interest, low motivation, 2nd circle- Avoid friends, miss school, stay in room , 3rd circle- Short term: Relief from additional effort, 4th circle- Friends stop calling/making an effort, get behind at school, 5th circle- Long term: Fewer opportunities for positive experiences and 6th circle- Makes depression worse.

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This article is from the free online course:

Understanding Depression and Low Mood in Young People

University of Reading