This is a serious mood disorder that anyone can experience. It affects 10% of teens and 17% of adults.
- National Institute of Mental Health



Know the facts.

We all experience ups and downs, good days and bad; but major depression is more serious and long-lasting.

DEFINITION:  Major Depression is a mood disorder marked by intense, long-lasting sadness (two weeks or more) and a loss of interest in once pleasurable activities. Having major depression is very different from feeling sad or being temporarily unhappy.

Unfortunately, too many people with major depression don't seek treatment. There is much needless suffering because they may not recognize the signs of the disorder or they may be embarrassed to admit how they feel because of stigma.

Although treatable, major depression can be life-threatening. While this disorder affects about 17% of the adult population, 11% experience a major depressive episode before age 18.

Symptoms of Major Depression
A person with major depression might...

  • feel persistent sadness, anxiety, or have feelings of emptiness
  • feel hopeless, pessimistic, guilty, worthless, or helpless
  • feel irritable, and/or restless
  • lose interest in activities, friends or hobbies
  • feel fatigue and decreased energy
  • have difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • experience insomnia or sleep too much
  • overeat or lose appetite
  • have thoughts of suicide or make suicide attempts
  • have aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems
  • People suffering from major depression cannot control their symptoms and sometimes do not know why they feel the way they do.

Sadness vs Depression

  • Sadness is an emotional state. People feel sad when bad things happen. However, everyday sadness is not a depressive disorder. When someone is sad, they can manage to cope and soon recover without treatment. Major depression is a serious mood disorder that requires treatment.


Situational Depression

  • can be triggered by a life trauma (like the death of a loved one).
  • can be triggered by environmental or external factors
  • often goes away in time
  • Unlike major depression, someone with situational depression can still experience joyful moments.
  • NOTE: Talking about the problem can ease the recovery process.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

  • can lead to social withdrawal.
  • can lead to increased sleep.
  • can lead to weight gain.
  • predictably returns every year.
  • NOTE: Symptoms tend to show up in winter when there are fewer hours of daylight. (This tends to occur at higher latitudes. As an example, an individual from Southern California who goes to college in New England or Washington may be susceptible.)
  • Regular exercise, learning to deal with stress and difficulties, and choosing healthy foods can help manage the symptoms of depression. 
  • Reducing screen time and increasing outdoor activities can be beneficial. 
  • Working with a mental health professional and taking medication prescribed by a psychiatrist are possible forms of treatment. 
  • Family and friends provide important support. 

Although treatable, depression can be life-threatening.


  • Don’t take a friend’s withdrawal personally.
  • Understand that someone with major depression or situational depression may not want to hang out with you. This is because of the depression, not because of you.
  • It can be difficult to be friends with someone diagnosed with depression. They can tend to isolate, be volatile or have bouts of anger.
  • Try to create regular opportunities to connect (e.g., having lunch together every Tuesday).


  • Educate yourself about the disorder.
  • Listen to your friend when they want to talk.
  • Keep checking in with your friend.
  • Use 1st person language. Say,
    “My friend has major depression.” not “My friend is always depressed or depressing to be around.”
  • Reassure your friend of your support and understanding.
  • People suffering from depression cannot control their symptoms and sometimes do not know why they feel the way they do. They may need extra understanding, because they may be very down or have low energy.


  • “It’s not your fault.”
  • “I’m listening.”
  • “I am here for you.”
  • “It’s the illness that causes these thoughts and feelings.”
  • “This must be really difficult for you.”


  • “It’s all in your head.”
  • “What’s wrong with you?”
  • “Get over yourself, you have no reason to feel that way.”
  • “Shouldn’t you be better by now?”


  • ...tell a friend to “Snap out of it!”
  • ...diagnose.
  • ...gossip.
  • ...take your friend’s withdrawal personally. 

Find additional information on our Mental Health Disorders page and other suggestions on our Understanding Stigma page >>

Can you answer these questions?

  1. What is major depression?
  2. What are some symptoms of major depression?
  3. How is being really sad different from situational depression? How is situational depression different from Major Depression?
  4. What types of treatment are available for people experiencing the symptoms of major depression?
  5. What can you do to support someone with major depression?
  6. How do you think stigma might affect a person with major depression?

*Hint: Read the MAJOR DEPRESSION facts at the top of this page to find the answers for 1-5. And view our Understanding Stigma page for question #6.



depression vs sadness
11 things people with depression would like you to understand
Ellie's depression


Know the facts.

Fact: Depression is a serious mood disorder and medical condition that affects the whole body. Depression impacts the way a person feels, thinks and acts. 

People suffering from depression cannot simply "pull themselves up" while experiencing the symptoms of depression.  

According to the Mayo Clinic, people with depression actually have physical differences in their brain, along with neurotransmitter and hormone imbalances.

Categorizing this condition as a matter of character can deter people from seeking the treatment they deserve and need.

- Adapted from Huffington Post and National Institute of Mental Health

Fact: Depression can be triggered by something in the environment, like a divorce or other traumatic experience such as the death of a loved one. But depression often is not triggered by any particular incident.

People with depression can have loving families, good jobs, and good friends, yet they suffer from "prolonged episodes" (prolonged = at least 2 weeks) of hopelessness, emptiness and lethargy.

-Adapted from  (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

Fact: Many people suffering from depression feel overwhelming sadness, but many don't feel any specific emotion at all.

A better description would be a feeling of emptiness and apathy.

And since anxiety often accompanies depression, many feel a constant state of tension that persists for  no reason.

- Adapted from the National Institute of Mental Health

Fact: Not everyone benefits from antidepressants. By some estimates, nearly 40% of those who take prescribed antidepressant medication will experience no benefits.

Some people respond better to forms of psychotherapy, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), or a combination of medication and therapy.

Even someone who gets good results from an antidepressant can, with medical supervision, eventually taper off antidepressant medication and never again experience depression.

- Adapted from Forbes

Fact: Just as people with an ulcer or diabetes can't "snap out of it," neither can people who have clinical depression. Although we don't know the exact cause of clinical depression, we do know it is a medical illness with biological components. We also know that genetics and certain chemicals play a part. People who suffer from depression are not lazy or weak. They  don't want to feel like they do.
- Adapted from West Virginia University



It's OK to ask for help.
Talk to a trusted adult.

Visit and access the all new YouthWell Community Resources Directory. You will find youth behavioral health and wellness resources in this resource directory.

If you or someone you know has harmed themselves or is in immediate risk of harm CALL 911 immediately.

SAFTY ~ Safe Alternatives for Treating Youth 

  • 888-334-2777 - SAFTY is a mobile crisis response service available daily 8am-8pm, providing crisis intervention, phone, and in-home support, and linkage to mental health services. Available to all SB County youth, age 0-20, regardless of insurance or ability to pay. 

Crisis Text Line

  • Text SIGNS to 741741 for 24/7, anonymous, free crisis counseling.
    Crisis Text Line serves anyone, in any type of crisis, providing access to free, 24/7 support and information via text. A live, trained Crisis Counselor receives the text and responds quickly.

Suicide Prevention Lifeline

  • 1-800-273-TALK (8255)  or  ONLINE LIVE CHAT
    24-hour, toll-free, confidential suicide prevention hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Your call is routed to the nearest crisis center in the national network of 150+ crisis center

Learning about mental health is the first step to wellness. The Mental Wellness Center (MWC) can help families find medical and professional care, as well as teach important skills on how to manage your mental health. Many families in our community have teenagers who are struggling with depression, anxiety, ADHD and other mental health issues. It can be overwhelming as a parent to find support for your teenager and difficult to talk about these issues. The MWC is focused on providing a safe and confidential space for families to connect with others, access community resources and get the support your family needs.


Keeping Connected Group
Come discuss life, work on communication and social skills and enjoy time with your peers! This weekly group brings together teens, 14-18, to learn emotion management in a fun, safe and confidential place. Learn and practice self-management skills for better self-regulation. Drop-ins are welcome.

Wellness Connection Program
The Wellness Connection is a high school leadership program of the Mental Wellness Center that educates, empowers, and engages students. Students raise awareness and reduce stigma around mental health by promoting self-care, connection, kindness, education, prevention, and outreach amongst their peers.

In Fall of 2020, the Wellness Connection welcomed more than 50 local high school students to their leadership council from high schools throughout Santa Barbara County.

To learn more about the Wellness Connection Program at the Mental Wellness Center, visit

Mental Health Matters • 6th & 9th GRADE CLASSES
MHM teaches basic facts about mental health to sixth and ninth grade students in the classroom. Instructors talk about stigma and how it affects our perceptions of mental illness and taking care of ourselves. Students learn the facts, including symptoms and warning signs, of specific mental health disorders.


SPOT (Support for Parents of Teens and Adolescents)
Mom Group - Meets Mondays at 10:00 AM (Spanish Group), Tuesdays at 12:00 PM (for moms) and Wednesdays at 6:30 PM (for all caregivers).

SPOT is a safe space for caregivers of teens and young adults to connect with other caregivers who might also be struggling in parenting a child with mental health challenges. We listen, support, and gain perspective in what is in our control and what is not. Facilitated discussion on emotional intelligence, coping strategies, and mindfulness is all incorporated during our time together.

For more information and to participate in SPOT, please contact Mental Wellness Center Family Advocate, Ramona Winner, at: 805-884-8440 ext. 3206, You must contact Ramona first to receive ZOOM link. If you are interested in joining the SPOT Spanish Group for Moms, please contact Isis Castaneda at: 805-448-0920.

Family Advocate
The MWC Family Advocate can assist families and provide assistance in understanding and navigating the local public and private mental health systems, help identify various clinical and support services available in our community and provide one-on-one support in times of crisis. 805.884.8440 x3206


Mental Health First Aid, Youth Mental Health First Aid, Teen Mental Health First Aid
This 8-hour course is offered monthly at the MWC and teaches participants how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. It also teaches an action plan to use in a psychiatric emergency. This course can be customized and provided on-site in schools and organizations. For more information visit

NAMI Santa Barbara County

Family-to-Family Educational Classes
This 8-week course (in English and Spanish) helps families better understand how their family member experiences their illness, how to best support the recovery process and how to better cope with the impact on the entire family. Contact the MWC Family Advocate to inquire or reserve a place in the next series. 805-884-8440 x3206

4th Thursday Speaker Presentations
NAMI Santa Barbara County offers free monthly presentations with dynamic speakers on topics of local interest related to mental health. Visit to learn more and see a full listing of NAMI Santa Barbara County offerings including upcoming groups and classes.


The Mental Wellness Center (MWC) lending library provides books for independent learning available for loan to MWC clients and their families.

The collection covers a wide variety of topics related to mental health and wellness and contains books on a range of mental health disorders including ADD/ADHD, anxiety disorders, bipolar mood disorder, depression, eating disorders, and schizophrenia. Materials on client and family coping and survival strategies, drug abuse in dual diagnosis, and suicide are also available. You will also find a limited selection of materials on psychopharmacology, memoirs, some relevant fiction, and a small collection of books written for children and teens.

The MWC Library Online Catalog is available for free online, click the button below to access. Simply input “MWC Library” as the library name, no password is required.


You may check out the library collection during MWC open hours or formal meeting periods. Contact your Support Group Facilitator to register as a library patron and obtain information on library procedures.