The causes of depression vary from person to person but may include genetics, significant losses, traumatic experiences, and some personality traits.
Decades of research suggest there’s no one cause of depression, but instead, a complex blend of factors seems to increase your chance of experiencing the condition.
Experts have identified many of these factors, as well as other elements, that seem to explain some of the symptoms of depression.
For some time, experts believed differences in brain structure were the main cause of depression. In fact,
However, it’s still unclear whether depression is the result of these brain differences or if it’s actually causing them.
Besides structure, the way your brain processes emotion may contribute to symptoms of depression. Research suggests a connection between depression and reduced activity in parts of the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for reward processing and motivation, among other things.
Depression’s connection to reward processing may impact the way you feel when you participate in an activity you enjoy. This could be why anhedonia, or loss of pleasure, is a common symptom of depression.
Researchers are still working toward a more complete understanding how of depression impacts the brain. Future research will continue to fill in these gaps.
The causes of depression aren’t fully established yet. A combination of factors is suspected to increase your chances of having depression in your lifetime.
Factors that may interact to cause depression include:
- certain gene sets
- personality traits
- significant life events
- stress and trauma
- seasonal changes
- underlying medical issues
- substance use or medications
Taking steps to address early signs of depression may help you reduce its severity later on. Even if you’ve been living with depression for years, many treatment options can help you manage your symptoms.
Some types of depression run in families, suggesting it can be inherited.
In addition, you may be up to
Epigenetics, or the process by which outside factors act on certain genes, is also connected to depression. For example, stress
Despite the strong link between depression and genetics, people with no family history of depression may still experience it. Whether inherited or not, depression is often associated with changes in brain structure and function.
Grief and loss
While grief and depression are two separate things, grief can sometimes lead to depression.
Grief may be more likely to lead to depression if you’re already prone to depression or have experienced it before.
While grief is a natural response to loss, depression doesn’t always have a clear cause. This can make managing symptoms more complicated, but there are still many effective treatment options.
Depression is closely connected with certain physical symptoms and medical conditions.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) reports that the following medical conditions can cause depression:
- heart attack
- Parkinson’s disease
- hormonal disorders
Depression as a medical symptom may increase feelings of apathy, making it harder to care for yourself through your medical condition and leading to challenges like poor personal hygiene.
In some cases, you may experience depression that is caused by seasonal changes. This kind of depression is called major depressive disorder (MDD) with seasonal pattern, formerly known as seasonal affective disorder.
If you live with this condition, your depression symptoms are initiated by seasonal changes. While many people experience this during the cold, dark months of winter, it’s possible for it to occur in any season.
Stress comes in a variety of forms, many of which can cause depression. In particular, chronic stress — stress that persists for a long period of time —
Life circumstances that can cause chronic stress include:
- a difficult long-term relationship
- financial problems
- childhood neglect
- a traumatic experience
- short or long-term abuse
When you’re stressed, your body releases stress hormones. In cases where stress is chronic, these stress hormones
Some factors may estimate how likely you are to develop depression. Unlike depression causes, contributing factors don’t necessarily lead to depression — but their existence may signal that you’re more or less likely to experience the mood disorder.
Some common contributing factors for depression may include:
- certain personality traits, such as pessimism
- co-occurring mental health conditions
- substance use
It’s not always clear whether these factors mean you’re prone to depression or whether they’re an early form of depression itself.
Personality traits and depression
Certain personality traits have been strongly connected to your chances of having depression, according to the DSM-5 and other
You might be more likely to experience depression if you:
- experience a
high level of neuroticism, or moodiness tend to ruminate, or fixate on certain thoughts tend to act impulsively
- consider yourself to be
It’s also possible to have any of these traits and not experience depression. But if you have one or more of these traits, you might be more likely to develop depression than someone who doesn’t have any.
Age is an important contributing factor when it comes to depression.
It’s common for depression to start showing up during adolescence. The
According to the same data, middle-aged adults (26 to 49 years of age) had the next highest rates of depression, followed by adults over 50 years of age.
Ethnicity may also indicate whether you’re more or less likely to be living with depression. According to
Groups who self-identified as white or American Indian/Alaskan Native had the next highest rates of depression compared with the rest of the population.
Since this information is mostly self-reported, more research is needed to address any gaps or biases that currently exist in self-reporting.
Co-occurring mental health conditions
If you have another mental health condition, you may also be more likely to have a depressive disorder. According to the DSM-5, some mental health conditions that tend to co-occur with depression include:
- bipolar disorder
- panic disorder
- substance use disorder
- obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- eating disorders
- borderline personality disorder
In some cases, one of these conditions could be misdiagnosed as depression, though it’s also possible to have both.
If you have depression and a co-occurring mental health condition, exploring potential causes and risk factors for the second condition may help you better understand your symptoms.
It’s still unclear whether depression causes substance use or whether substance use activates depression. The truth is likely that it can go both ways.
Research has repeatedly linked depression to alcohol consumption, for example.
Even if you’re not sure what causes depression, a whole host of treatment options are within your grasp.
Treatment for depression may depend on what type of depression you’re experiencing. It can include talk therapy, medication, lifestyle changes, and home remedies.
It can feel difficult to cope with depression symptoms when those same symptoms sap your motivation and energy. But even small, manageable steps can get you on the path to thriving through depression.