You know when you wait ages for a bus and then three come along all at once? Well, that’s how becoming a teen felt for me.

I had found primary school easy. I had lots of friends, exams were a breeze and I never really thought about how I looked. But then lots of things came along all at once.

My parents had never got on well, but suddenly they were fighting so much more. I had my first crush, but he didn’t like me back. I started my period, but had a lot of painful cramps. My friends were arguing and taking time off school to go to the park. And to top it all off, I was finding it really difficult that everyone else in my class — not to mention everyone else on the planet — seemed to have big boobs and mine felt tiny in comparison.

So much had happened in one go that I didn’t know how to deal with it. It’s easy to pick up one or two Maltesers when they’ve fallen out of the packet, isn’t it? But what about when the whole packet falls on the floor? Well, you either start picking them up… or you don’t pick them up at all.

That’s what I did. Instead of coping with one thing at a time, I felt really overwhelmed. It was like a big, sad cloud was following me around and raining on me all of the time. I tried to hide it and pretend my parents breaking up wasn’t a big deal really or I didn’t even want to have boobs and look like the girls in the magazines. But deep down I was overwhelmed. And the worst part was that I thought other people could tell. This meant I did less and less. I didn’t want to socialise with my friends or get dressed up because I thought I was just a quiet, sad girl to them.

I didn’t really know where these feelings were coming from, either. I thought everyone else was dealing with things a lot better than me — and that I should be happy. After all, I got good grades, I had friends, I had a mum who was just absolutely ace. All I really needed at the time was someone to tell me that it’s ok to feel sad and confused sometimes when you hit your teens. Worrying about your body when it’s going through puberty and changing so much is really natural. Getting sad about your parents arguing would probably even make Beyoncé want a good cry. And feeling unsettled when friends were falling out and crushes wouldn’t text back? Well, that was something everyone was going through too.

But it felt like just me.

One day I remember feeling so trapped and sad that I just ran outside to get away from everything. As simple as that. I ran and I kept running. And suddenly my heart was beating faster, I could feel the wind against my face, I was breathing normally, I was holding my head up high, I wasn’t caring about how my body looked. I felt free.

More importantly, I felt happy.

Happy that I could make a decision to get outside when it felt like life was too much, that I could make my body work for me, that I could feel a surge of happy exercise endorphins in my blood and that I could breathe free and easy rather than feeling panicky and nervous.

I’d always loved to exercise when I was growing up. But PE lessons had sucked all of the fun out of running and climbing and dancing around — all of the things I loved when I was young. Team sports felt so boring and fake to me. But discovering running for myself felt like I had opened up a brand new world.

From then on, anytime a sad or nervous or “I’m rubbish!” feeling came along, I’d decide not to let it take over. Instead, I put on my trainers and went outside. Taking some time out of each day to do something for me, how I wanted to do it, in the way I wanted to do it felt really good. It didn’t stop the sad feelings, it didn’t make my parents get back together or magically grow me a huge pair of boobs to make all of the other girls in my class jealous. But it made things feel easier, happier and somehow just a little bit lighter. Because I was proving to myself that I was stronger than my sad thoughts.

It doesn’t always work, though. Sometimes I don’t go running. Sometimes I still sit inside and forget how nice it feels. Sometimes lots of sad feelings still come along. But that’s a natural part of being me.

And years later, I still run and it’s still the best medicine for when I’m feeling sad and when things get too overwhelming. I’ve not trained for a marathon, I don’t spend a lot of my money on fancy running clothes or run a lot of races for charity. But I do feel like I have a secret weapon for whenever life gets a bit too much.

@BeccaCaddy

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While reading a good book is not going to magically fix all your problems, there’s evidence out there that suggests it might help you be able to cope with them. A key part of the power of books boils down to the way books make you more empathetic and therefore your relationships stronger.

The science of it is all to do with “mirror neurons”; when we read about something, our brain reacts as though we’re experiencing it ourselves. It shouldn’t really be that much of a surprise that reading about a wealth of different people and places makes us think more broadly about what it must be like to experience the world differently but the science is now backing up what readers have known for a long time. It also shows how important it is to read broadly and diversely. As Samuel Johnson said, although a little bit melodramatically: the only end of writing is to enable the readers better to enjoy life, or better to endure it.

At the School of Life in London you can enrol in a ‘bibliotherapy’ session, and GPs are now prescribing books for panic attacks, depression and anxiety alongside medication and more traditional therapy. There are studies showing reading reduces your chances of developing dementia, that it slows memory decline, helps you sleep better, reduces the symptoms of depression. You can find stats to prove a link between reading and almost every mental health issue. For some suggestions of where to start, Reading Well has book lists arranged by subject including self-harm, body image and anxiety.

In 2009 researchers from the University of Sussex showed that even six minutes of reading can reduce stress levels by two thirds, because it forces concentration on one thing and eases tension in your muscles and heart. Mindfulness may be a new phase, but reading is the original meditation and has been around a long time. An actual sentence in a report by The Reading Agency is: prolific and regular readers are the happiest groups… more regular readers are least anxious.

And that’s science, guys.

Aside from science, I’ve seen the real life impact of the power of reading. I used to work as a librarian in a big secondary school in Coventry with 11-18 year olds and I saw first-hand the impact that books could have on teen readers (and teachers); whether it’s for advice, catharsis or escape. Although famously a solo activity, I’ve also seen the way reading builds communities and breaks down barriers between students from wildly different backgrounds. And that’s not even getting onto the online communities and fandoms that the internet has gifted us.

The latest campaigner for the health benefits of reading is DJ and writer Gemma Cairney, who gave this year’s Reading Agency Lecture on mental health and the books that have had an impact on her, three of which she’s shared with us below, as well as why they mean so much to her.

She says, “Mental health comes in a lot of different flavours but it’s written about so clinically, and it doesn’t have to be – more people than we realise are experiencing one of those flavours and we just need to open up lines of communication around our mental wellbeing and start being more honest A good book is all about imagination, sparkle, something accessible and not too self-indulgent. When I started to think about the things that have inspired my life and writing, I found these were the books that gave me the licence to be me from a young age”.

Here are Gemma’s top picks for those who want to get reading…

The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton

“I’ve got a rampant imagination and this captured that from an early start because it’s a totally bananas book. I’m a kooky person and you’re often lambasted for that, but his book taught me that it’s okay to be wacky and different, and I liked that a lot”. Buy a copy here.

faraway-tree

Forever by Judy Blume

“Everyone got their hands on Forever because It was the first time we could actually delve into a serious issue. At that age you start to become inquisitive about sex and when that happens it’s quite hard to regulate your idea of it. I feel lucky that I could get information from a book which is nuanced and rounded and about love, because sex should be about love.” Buy your copy here.

forever

Lorali by Laura Dockrill

“I love this book because it’s so brilliantly weird. The use of slang, the poetic nature, the need for imagination and fantasy, it gives you confidence that there is something out there for everyone, you just need to explore and find the right book for you.” Buy your copy here.

lorali

@acaseforbooks

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“You have major depression,” the doctor told me, her eyes kind and thoughtful, like a basset hound.

“There are loads of things we can do. We can get you into therapy and put you on some anti-depressants,” she continued. “You will get through this, Lily,” she said, taking hold of my hand and squeezing it tightly.

I closed my eyes and cried – not with sadness, but relief. Finally, an answer. There was something wrong with me, even the doctor said so. This wasn’t me being melodramatic, this wasn’t me being ridiculous, this wasn’t just how growing up felt. This was a real, medical problem. There were things that could be done.

But the best thought of all was: maybe I won’t always have to feel this way. And for the first time in a really long time, I felt the clouds in my brain shift, just a little, and I could see a glimpse of another life. A life where I was happy.

Strangely, I had never really noticed I was happy – until I wasn’t. It’s so easy to take happiness for granted because a lot of the time, happiness is nothing more than a gentle hum in your chest, or being able to fall asleep the moment your head hits your pillow. Happiness can be smiling to yourself on the train, or going a whole day without thinking a single negative thing about yourself. These were luxuries that I took for granted, because I had no idea how it would feel when they went away.

I didn’t know that the gentle hum in my chest could be replaced with a tightness that made it hard to breathe, that there would be nights where I lay awake, convinced I was utterly worthless as a person. That my smile would be buried somewhere at the back of my throat or that I would begin to hate the very essence of who I was.

* *  *  *  *  *  *

One of my mentors once told me: “You’ll never get anything if you don’t ask for it.” Over the years I’ve repeated this advice to myself in a million different situations, and each time, it has let me tap into a deep reserve of bravery that I didn’t know I had. It was this advice that I drew upon last time I had a depressive episode. I knew that help was mine for the taking and that all I had to do was ask.

But, of course, the asking is the most difficult part. Vocalising that you think something is going wrong with the inner workings of your brain is incredibly hard. Forcing the words, “I need help,” or “I think I’m depressed,” or “can you please take me to the doctor,” up your throat and out of your mouth can feel as impossible as breathing under water.

It was for that exact reason that I ignored my depression for a long time. I had my first depressive episode when I was fifteen, and at the time it was so tightly woven into my anorexia that it was almost impossible to work out where one ended and the other began. The side effects of anorexia were obvious in my baggy clothes and the sunken shadows under my eyes. But depression hides inside your brain, revealing itself only to you, like the invisible friend you had as a child.

I suppose the real reason I ignored it was simply because being a teenager is confusing. Your body has morphed into one you don’t recognise and spots are erupting like volcanoes on your face and your moods change with the wind. Hadn’t my teachers and parents and textbooks explained every change in my life with a one single word: hormones? Hadn’t every book I’d ever read, every song I’d ever listened to, every movie I’d ever watched, warned me that growing up was meant to be hard? That teenagers are meant to be full of angst and to feel like no one understands them? And so, I told myself, maybe that’s all this was.

And after all, what did I have to be depressed about? Me, with my loving family and my nice house and my top grades. Me, with my loyal friends and my supportive parents? There were people in the world who were starving. People who were homeless. People who had lost parents or siblings. People who had lives that I couldn’t comprehend in my privileged bubble.

But none of these things stopped the neurotransmitters in my brain screwing up. None of these things ever have or ever will be enough to stop mental illness. Anxiety has never looked at someone and gone, “Gee, you know what? They have a really sweet family, so I’ll just leave this one be.” Depression doesn’t give two hoots if you make Head Girl or the hockey team. OCD doesn’t decide to skip someone because their parents are rich. I know these things now – but at the time, the fact that I had every opportunity in the world and was still depressed only seemed to prove to me that I was a terrible person.

For a long time, I believed that my mental illness made me weaker than other people. I would watch my friends swing between happiness and sadness with ease. I would wonder why I couldn’t be more like them. Instead, sadness seemed to cling to me like an ex who just won’t take the hint.

But it turned out that my brain just needed a little more help that other people’s. The same way you need to throw a kite into the air a little, in order for it to take flight. With the right medication and the right therapist, I was able to claw back parts of my life that had withered with neglect. And you can too.

It’s like Dumbledore said (kind of):

“Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.”

Once you ask for help. Once you confess your worries to a parent. Once you say the words aloud to a doctor. Once you confide in a teacher. Once you let the words out into the world, things can start getting better.

To all of you out there struggling silently with depression, I promise you one thing: it doesn’t have to be this hard.

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Depression is not a bad mood.

Let’s just get that out of the way, right at the beginning. It’s not a matter of feeling sad for a few days. It’s not something that you can ‘snap out of’. And it is absolutely NOT a sign of weakness.

Depression is a very real illness, with very real symptoms.

But with the right treatment and support, it doesn’t have to take over your life either. Some people with depression will make a complete recovery, others might find themselves managing their symptoms on and off their whole lives. But either way, it is always possible to feel happy again. Pinky promise.

What does depression look like?

Part of what makes depression so difficult to understand is that often, there isn’t anything to see. It’s not like a broken arm or a bleeding toe, something you can point at and say “here! This is where it hurts!”

But when you think about it, there are heaps of things we can’t see. Love. Gravity. Farts. Pokemon. We still believe they exist.

However, depression can come with physical symptoms too. Some people find that they constantly feel tired, others have trouble sleeping or sprout various pains and aches. Some people lose their appetite while other people find that their appetite has quadrupled overnight.

Emotionally, people with depression may find that they have lasting feelings of sadness or hopelessness and that they don’t find happiness in things they normally enjoy. Such as hanging out with friends and family. Puppies. Chocolate milkshakes. It’s also common for people experiencing depression to have symptoms of anxiety. But that doesn’t mean that if you have depression you’ll also have anxiety, or vice versa.

TL;DR? Here's the important stuff:
  • Depression is a mental illness but it can have physical symptoms too, such as fatigue, pains and aches and a loss of appetite.
  • There are loads of reasons that people develop depression; sometimes there is a trigger and other times there seems to be no reason at all.
  • Depression is treatable. Treatment often involves talking therapies, and medication such as antidepressants.
  • It’s totally normal and ok to be sad sometimes. But if you’re worried your sadness might be something more serious, talk to your GP or an adult you trust. You don’t have to go through this alone.

It’s perfectly natural to experience feelings of sadness or anxiety at certain points in your life – especially during puberty, when often it can feel like your brain and body are running in two different races at the same time. This is part of being a human, and usually nothing to worry about in the long term.

Even though they might look similar from far away and are often mistaken for each other, when you get close up, you realise that depression and sadness are completely different things.

What causes depression?  

There are loads of reasons that people develop depression – and sometimes, no obvious reason at all.

Sometimes there is a trigger, such as parents splitting up, being bullied, or losing someone close to you. Some people might just be more prone to depression than others. Every family gene pool is a lucky dip of quirks and conditions that might be passed down – from heart disease and diabetes to pointy noses, and sometimes, yep, depression or other mental health issues.

But having a history of depression in your family doesn’t mean that you will get it, just as no history of depression isn’t a guarantee that you won’t. That’s the thing about a lucky dip: no one quite knows what they’re going to get.

Is it treatable?

Yes, a million times yes. Treatment for depression often involves talking therapies, such as seeing a psychologist or a counsellor to chat about your feelings. Talking therapies can be great as they can teach you tactics to help you cope in certain situations and strategies to avoid triggers.

There are also medications such as antidepressants, which can help people cope with their symptoms and balance out their mood. It’s common for people to try a combination of talking therapies and medication, depending on their GP’s advice.

When should I go to the doctor?

It’s always best to be on the safe side, so if you feel like you have any of the symptoms we’ve been talking about, it might be a good idea to head to your GP for a chat. You can also find lots of helpful info on Childline.

Remember, it’s totally normal and ok and fine to be sad – that’s what we have Weepy Girls’ Corner for. But if you’re worried that your sadness could be depression, talk to someone. It could be a teacher, a parent, a doctor, an older sibling, a synchronised swimming instructor… basically, an adult you trust.

Because however difficult things seem, you never have to suffer in silence.

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You probably know the story by now. A few weeks ago, Justin posted a stream of selfies of him and his new lady friend, Sofia Richie, on Instagram.

Lots of Beliebers were less than impressed and started throwing some serious shade at Sofia. Biebs came to her defense, saying:

“I’m gonna make my Instagram private if you guys don’t stop the hate this is getting out of hand. If you guys are really fans you wouldn’t be so mean to people that I like.”

Next followed a public spat with his ex, Selena Gomez, who advised him to stop whinging and stop posting pics of his new love – then a few days later, Justin’s account vanished into Instagram heaven (presumably to live happily with the ghost of Ed Sheeran’s social media presence).

What can we learn from this?

Well, for starters, it’s probably not a great idea to feud with your ex in the comments section of Instagram.

But maybe Biebs is on to something. Maybe we should all be taking a bit of a break from social media.

Shockingly, it turns out that all the time we spend staring at screens isn’t amazing for our mental health. The University of Pittsburgh found that the more time people spent on social media, the greater risk they were at of developing depression.

Meanwhile, Anxiety UK conducted a study that suggested people who spent a significant amount of time on social media have increased levels of anxiety and low self-esteem.

Half of the people interviewed said social media had a negative impact on their lives, whether it was because they were negatively comparing themselves to other people or struggling to ever switch off.

The constant pressure of social media; to pick the ‘right’ filter and get the ‘right’ amount of likes, to be seen with the ‘right’ people in the ‘right’ places.

To be funny and smart and interesting and beautiful. And to do all of those things without spilling tea down your front and remembering all your friends birthdays.

It’s frickin’ exhausting.

So this weekend, let’s all be a little more Biebs (but without the face tattoo) and take some time out from social media.

And guys – stay away from your ex’s comments section.

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