Like many different conditions that influence a person’s health, there is no single cause of or solution to depression. Many different factors contribute to mental health, varying from the intensely personal to the large and cultural: genetics, brain chemistry, stress/trauma, lifestyle and environment, and medical conditions. Trying to determine which of these “causes” depression is often an impossible task.
But with that said, people suffering from depression often do share some commonalities. These markers have made it easier for doctors and psychologists to diagnose the disorder and may provide hints about how to treat it best for that individual.
Where Depression Comes From
Contrary to what some misinformed people may believe, clinical depression (also known as major depressive disorder) is not just “being sad”. It is a recognized medical condition with visible effects on the brain, and almost always requires professional treatment to overcome.
But if it isn’t simply high emotions, where does it come from? Research points to several major contributing factors. A combination of some or all of these could be the root cause of depression:
As with most health conditions, genetics plays a major role. Studies show that relatives of people with depression or similar mood disorders are much more likely to develop it themselves – the risk might be doubled or even tripled. This effect is likely more pronounced for women than men. Other studies show that genes may be up to 40% responsible for depression overall, but these are difficult amounts to quantify. All these risk factors should be taken together, rather than in isolation.
Further reading: How Genetics Can Play a Role in Depression
2) Brain Chemistry:
An imbalance of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin might also be a big contributing factor to depression. Without the right ratios of these compounds, areas of the brain might struggle to communicate or respond to one another. This may result in symptoms that we recognize as depression – a lack of motivation or interest, an inability to feel happiness, or a big change in sleeping and eating patterns. This is why even natural processes, like childbirth or menopause, can disrupt hormone patterns and lead to depressive disorders.
Further reading: The Biochemistry of Depression
Everyone deals with stress differently, and when faced with a lot of it, some people may feel completely overwhelmed. Major life events like divorce, job loss, the death of a loved one, or a traumatic occurrence can all be sources of stress, acting as catalysts for further behaviours and habits that perpetuate a depressive cycle. While these are unlikely to be a unique cause on their own, they are recognized as triggers – especially when they become long-term, persistent stress, forming their own part of the entire mental health picture.
Further reading: Stress and Depression
4) Lifestyle and Environment:
The way we live our lives profoundly impacts our mental health. And we unfortunately live in a time where many things – both within and beyond our control – are exacerbating this, such as:
- lack of sleep
- poor nutrition/deficiencies
- not enough exercise
- constant distractions
- financial stress
- Seasonal Affective Disorder
- substance abuse
- no close friendships or relationships
None of these things may seem like a cause of depression on their own, but they can snowball and get out of control quickly. Combined with the other effects mentioned here, it’s easy to see how major depressive disorder can take hold of ourselves or others.
Further reading: Lifestyle Factors and Environmental Causes of Major Depression
5) Medical Conditions:
People with chronic medical conditions, especially if they are painful, are more susceptible to depression. Diseases like cancer, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, or even a one-time head injury can all play a role, because mental and physical health are linked. The ongoing stress of worrying about your body can have a lasting effect on your thoughts and emotions, leading to a frightening feedback loop.
Further reading: Chronic Illness and Mental Health
Depression’s Effect on the Brain
Are there physical signs of depression within the brain? Is it possible to look at an MRI and “see” the condition? While it’s not perfectly black and white, there may be some clues in the physical structures of the brain.
Studies show that some regions of the brain may shrink in people experiencing depression – places like the hippocampus, thalamus, amygdala, and prefrontal cortices. These modulate and control memory, emotions, impulses, attention, and information relays across the brain, and this shrinkage may help explain the noticeable effect that depression has on people.
For many people, the exact root cause of depression is not nearly as important as the treatment of it. Regardless of whether it stems from trauma, genetics, lifestyle choices, or something else, what matters is that there are many potential solutions that can help you overcome those negative thoughts and habits.
Here at Your Counselling, we specialize in behavioural therapies for depression and other mood disorders. We create unique and individual paths forward for each client, developed from proven methodologies. Contact us today for a free 15-minute consultation, and get started on the road to a happier, healthier life!
To learn more on the topic of depression, visit our blog post titled “Depression: Everything You Need To Know“.