Research from the American Psychiatric Association shows that one in six people in the United States experiences depression at some point in life. This mood disorder manifests in different forms, such as extreme sadness, anger, and mood fluctuations. However, symptoms can vary from person to person – in many cases, a casual observer might not even be able to tell that someone is suffering.
But what exactly causes someone to develop a mental illness like depression? In this comprehensive overview, we’re going to outline the causes and risk factors of depression so you’re better equipped to recognize and manage this mental illness.
Because depression is so complex, it’s challenging to identify any singular cause. However, researchers and medical professionals have determined a few commonalities between individuals with clinical depression. This section describes how past trauma, stressful life events, and other mental and physical health conditions can contribute to depression.
Traumatic experiences throughout your life – especially during childhood – can leave a lasting impact long after it’s happened. While trauma is usually defined within the bounds of abuse, neglect, grief, or financial instability, it can come in many forms. Some people are more susceptible to internalizing their trauma, while others may be completely unaffected.
Most mental health conditions are caused by stress, which can be as hugely significant as sexual assault, poverty, or homelessness, or as “small” as a mild disturbance in your daily life. Regardless of how “big” or “small” a stressful event is, failing to cope in a healthy way can lead to mental health issues down the road.
Even “positive” events can lead to symptoms of depression. Although new life is typically a cause for celebration, giving birth can result in postpartum depression (PPD). According to the National Institute of Mental Health, prolonged and untreated depression does not only harm the mother, but the child as well.
Many mental health issues have overlapping symptoms. That’s why it’s no wonder that having anxiety disorder or bipolar disorder may sometimes also lead to developing symptoms associated with depression. People with ADHD, chronic pain, or suffer from insomnia are also more likely to develop depressive symptoms.
Mental health issues are commonly regarded as a result of “chemical imbalances in the brain”, but this doesn’t wholly capture how complex each person’s specific condition is. Scientific study has shown that depression is linked to certain regions of the brain and how well they respond to signals. For example, a person’s amygdala (which processes fear, anger, and sexual arousal) may be more active in depressed brains. At the same time, the hippocampus (home of long-term memory) might see less action.
Some people are more susceptible to depression due to certain genetic or environmental factors. Here are four leading considerations that play a significant role in depression:
Certain personality types are more susceptible to depression. Neuroticism or high emotional sensitivity is linked to a higher incidence of depressive symptoms. Introverted people are also more vulnerable to depression due to their tendency to isolate and ruminate on past events.
Depression is caused by a mix of factors, two of which are genetic and environmental. Scientific studies favoring the genetic argument have identified a specific gene common in families with recurrent depression, while others have explored more behaviorally-oriented research questions. Specifically, these academic articles have found that children whose parents or adult relatives exhibit depressive behaviors may grow up to mimic or model them, but this doesn’t necessarily cause depression on its own.
Instead, the children may internalize these maladaptive coping mechanisms, which may result in a higher susceptibility to depressive symptoms in the long term.
Neglecting your physical health can destabilize your mental wellbeing and make it more difficult to cope with the stressors of everyday life – which can impact the prevalence and likelihood of developing depressive symptoms. Conversely, depression can result from dips in your physical health that can harm your mental health.
To stay physically healthy, you need to maintain a healthy diet, engage in regular exercise, and get enough sleep. Healthy habits promote a better mood and increase the production of “happy hormones” like dopamine and serotonin, helping you manage stress.
Everyone deals with their negative emotions differently, but some coping mechanisms do more harm than good. Drug and alcohol abuse may serve as a temporary distraction from your issues, but they can also lead to addiction and foggy mental states – causing even more problems down the line.
Because substance use disorders and depression are so commonly related, researchers have a term for it – a co-occurring condition, also known as dual diagnosis. Depression and substance abuse have a bi-directional relationship, which means that people with depression are more likely to abuse substances and vice versa.
The truth about mental health conditions is that, unlike most physical ailments, there isn’t a clear-cut “cure” that you can pay for. Instead, much of your treatment is spent training you how to manage your symptoms and interact with your stressors to minimize its impact. Here are a few professionally vetted tips on how to manage your mental health, beyond therapy and working with a doctor.
There is no shame in seeking help from a mental health professional, especially when symptoms get too difficult to manage on your own.
After finding a therapist, make sure to be honest about your problems and situation. Your diagnosis is built over time, and doctors can only make informed decisions based on the information you give them. Once they’ve given you a tentative diagnosis, you’ll be presented with several treatment options. Don’t worry about making a decision just yet, your doctor will ensure that you understand each option before you start anything.
Loneliness can lead to depression, so a strong network of supportive friends and family is key. If there are people in your life that you can count on, you’re less likely to feel alone – reducing your risk of being depressed.
If you’re not particularly close with your family or have few friends, a dedicated support group can be a good alternative. You can find depression support groups in your area or online to get advice, share your experiences, and maybe even help others on their journey.
“A healthy mind in a healthy body” may sound like a cheap platitude, but there’s a lot of truth to it. Good physical health leads to a good mood, reducing your susceptibility to being depressed.
You don’t even need to spend hours in the gym to be in good physical health. Exercising half an hour daily, eating healthy and balanced meals, as well as getting enough sleep can keep your body – and mind – healthy.
A chemical imbalance is often said to be the cause of depression, but that’s a massive oversimplification. While scientists haven’t found the exact cause, there are some things that can cause someone to show depressive symptoms.
Some factors like your personality and substance use history also play a role in your likelihood of having depression. Fortunately, you can take several steps to manage some of these factors and reduce your likelihood of being depressed.
The key thing that you should remember about depression is that you can’t face it alone. Here at Transformations at Mending Fences, we provide depression treatment tailored especially for you. If you’re ready to take the next steps to a healthier, happier you, contact us today!