“I’m always going to be tired”: A qualitative exploration of adolescents’ experiences of fatigue in depression

Nina Higson-Sweeney, Kate Cooper, Barnaby D. Dunn, Maria Loades

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Adolescent depression is a prevalent and disabling condition, but current psychological treatments are only moderately effective. One way to enhance outcomes is to further our understanding of adolescent depression and improve our capacity to target the most frequently reported and problematic symptoms. A common but often neglected symptom of depression is fatigue, which is associated with considerable impairment and has the potential to interfere with adolescents’ engagement in psychological therapies. Despite this, the experience of fatigue in adolescent depression and how we target it in treatment is currently poorly understood. Therefore, we aimed to explore adolescents’ experiences and understandings of fatigue in depression, recruiting from clinical and community settings. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 19 UK-based adolescents aged 14-18 years old with elevated symptoms of depression. Using reflexive thematic analysis, three themes were generated. Fatigue is a complex concept explored adolescents’ understanding of fatigue as a dynamic, multifaceted symptom which had mental and physical components. Trapped in a cycle of fatigue considered the complex and reciprocal relationship between fatigue and other depressive symptoms, and the subsequent impact of limited energy on engagement with everyday activities. Finally, stigma as a barrier to help-seeking highlighted how adolescents were reluctant to seek help due to experienced stigma and the perception that fatigue was not a serious enough symptom. Findings from this study suggest that fatigue should be viewed as a psychological as well as somatic symptom of depression, with implications regarding the identification and treatment of fatigue in depression in routine clinical practice.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages13
JournalEuropean Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
Early online date10 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jun 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding This work was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council [grant number ES/P000630/1]. Dr Kate Cooper is funded by a National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Clinical Doctoral Research Fellowship for this research project (ICA-CDRF2018-04-ST2-047). Dr. Maria Loades (NIHR Doctoral Research Fellowship, DRF-2016-09-021; Development and Skills Enhancement Award, 302367) is funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) for this research project. The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR, NHS or the UK Department of Health and Social Care.

Data availability: Anonymised data from the current study are available
from the corresponding author, NH-S, upon reasonable request.


  • Adolescence
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Lived experience
  • Qualitative

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


Dive into the research topics of '“I’m always going to be tired”: A qualitative exploration of adolescents’ experiences of fatigue in depression'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this