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Feeling down? Got the blues? You're not alone. Everyone gets sad (yes, everyone you ever met). Sad feelings can happen pretty often, too - more than half of teenagers go through a sad period at least once a month.

When you're sad, it feels like it will last forever, but usually feelings of sadness don't last very long - a few hours, or maybe a day or 2. It's important to recognize when sadness does not go away, because this may mean there is a more serious problem, called depression.

What Is Sadness?
When you're sad, the world seems dark and unfriendly. You have a hurt deep inside that crushes your heart and your spirit. Many times you cry, and the tears are hard to stop. Crying usually makes you feel better. When sadness starts to go away, it feels like a heavy blanket is being lifted from your heart.

When Is It Natural to Feel Sad?
Feeling sad every once in a while is natural. Maybe you didn't get something you really wanted. Maybe you miss somebody. Maybe somebody you really like rejected you, and you don't feel so great about yourself. There are lots of reasons that people feel sadness. These are some of them:

Loss is the most common cause of sadness. It's a very sad thing to lose someone or something that you care about. There are many kinds of loss. The death of a relative, friend, or pet can bring weeks or months of sad feelings. Other kinds of loss can also bring sadness, like people close to you getting a divorce or moving to a new town and leaving old friends. With this sadness, you might also feel angry or guilty, like you may have caused the loss - but you probably did not. Sometimes it is hard to think straight because you cannot get your mind off your loss. Usually, the load of sadness you carry after a loss will lighten over time, although there may always be a little bit of sadness left.

Relationships bring happiness and fun most of the time, but they can also bring sad times. Many kids fight with family members, especially their parents, in the struggle to grow up and gain independence. They fight about things like money, clothing, haircuts, school, friends, and cars. In school, problems with teachers and grades may cause periods of sadness as well. Other kids, both friends and enemies, can cause hurt feelings and sadness through fighting, teasing, peer pressure, not giving you support, or leaving you out of group activities.

Self-image, the way you feel about yourself, can be a big reason for sad feelings. Most people, even adults, are not completely happy with the way they look. Many people feel that they are not as good as they would like to be in sports or in school. And lots of people feel shy when talking to other people (especially with members of the opposite sex).

When Is Sadness a Problem?
If sad feelings go on for too long, it's called depression. Here are some of the signs and symptoms that can be seen with depression:

  • feeling anxious, "empty," or "numb"
  • feeling hopeless, like there's nothing to look forward to
  • feeling guilty or worthless
  • feeling lonely or unloved
  • losing interest in regular activities - things are not fun anymore
  • having difficulty concentrating in school and when doing homework - sometimes grades fall
  • having difficulty concentrating on other activities, like reading or watching TV - not remembering what a book or a TV show was about
  • having less energy and feeling tired all the time
  • sleeping too much or not enough
  • not eating enough (smaller appetite) and weight loss, or eating too much (bigger appetite) and weight gain
  • thinking about death - or sometimes attempting suicide
  • spending less time with friends and more time alone
  • frequently crying, often for no obvious reason
  • feeling irritable (every little thing gets on your nerves)
  • feeling restless (being unable to sit still or relax)
  • having physical complaints, such as dry mouth, dry skin, difficulty having bowel movements, headaches, stomach or chest pain, vomiting, dizziness

People who have depression may not know it. Often it's a parent or teacher who notices behavior changes. Sometimes depression can occur for no obvious reason. Sometimes it runs in families. Other times there is an apparent reason, like a long period of sadness after the loss of someone really close, such as a parent; problems at home, including violence, illness, divorce, or alcohol or drug use; child abuse or neglect; rape; and long-term illness, burns, or accidents.

Getting Help
It's very important for people who have depression to get help. When they do, they can get better quickly. Sometimes treatment involves talking to someone who knows all about depression. Sometimes it means taking medications. Sometimes both of these things are used.

If you think you have depression, or you just have sadness that simply will not go away, it is important to talk to an adult about it: a parent, relative, doctor, teacher, guidance counselor, coach, minister, or close adult friend. This person can help find the right type of treatment. Many cities also have mental health hot lines or suicide hotlines that are listed in the phone book. There is always somebody to talk to - somebody who can help.

Updated and reviewed by: Steve Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: May 2001
Originally reviewed by:
Steven Bachrach, MD

Source: KidsHealth is a project of The Nemours Foundation which is dedicated to improving the health and spirit of children. Today, as part of its continuing mission, the Foundation supports the operation of a number of renowned children's health facilities throughout the nation, including the Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware, and the Nemours Children's Clinics throughout Florida.  Visit The Nemours Foundation to find out more about them and its health facilities for children