While preventing depression isn’t always possible, you can take steps to reduce the risk of developing symptoms.
No two people experience depression the same way, though there is overlap in its physical and mental health impacts.
Depression affects 1 in 15 adults, with women more likely than men to experience its symptoms. Depression is a challenging condition that can sap your energy and motivation and strain relationships.
While preventing complex conditions like depression isn’t always possible, some methods can help lower your chances of developing depression, worsening symptoms, or depression relapse.
Depression comes in many forms, some of which are easier to manage than others. However, there are effective treatments for all types of depression.
Certain factors, known as risk factors, can increase your chances of developing depression. They include:
- family history and genetics
- a history of trauma, such as abuse or neglect
- chronic stress
- medication and substance use
- environmental factors, such as a death or loss, unemployment, and poverty
Not all risk factors can be changed, such as your genetics. In fact, Stanford Medicine reports that the genetic link of depression may be as high as 40% to 50%.
That said, many factors — known as protective factors — can help lower your chances of developing the condition even if you have a genetic predisposition. And, if you already experience depression, adopting various self-care and treatment strategies can help stop your symptoms from getting worse.
While it’s not possible to accurately measure whether depression has been prevented in a particular person, some research shows positive results. For example, research from 2021 suggests that school-supplied prevention programs may help prevent depression symptoms from getting worse.
According to the research, there are several ways to help prevent a major depressive disorder from developing later in a child’s life: making mental health services available to all students, working to remove the stigma attached to mental illness, and generally promoting mental health have all shown promising results.
While some factors are outside your control, such as personal losses and genetics, there are many ways to bring more protective factors into your life. Boosting your protective factors can help you look after your mental health, which in turn reduces your risk of depressive symptoms.
1. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle
Research suggests that keeping up a healthy lifestyle can help you keep depression at bay. For example:
- A 2018 review found that a better quality diet was linked with a lower risk of depressive symptoms.
2019 reviewreported that disrupted sleep is both a risk factor and symptom of depression. As such, improving your sleep hygiene could help with your symptoms. You can read some tips for sleeping better here.
- A 2019 study suggests that exercise can have a protective effect on depression.
2. Mood and behavior tracking
Keeping track of your moods can help you identify factors that may contribute to your symptoms. For example, you might find that your depressive symptoms come up more often when you’ve had poor sleep, taken on too many work or social responsibilities, or during certain stages of your menstrual cycle.
When you start noticing your triggers, you can feel empowered to take steps and prioritize self-care when these triggers arise.
To start keeping track of your moods and behaviors, consider writing in a journal or downloading a mood tracking app.
3. Coping with grief or trauma
Feeling low, lacking energy or motivation, and sleep disruption are all common after experiencing a traumatic event or a loss. If these feelings last for 2 weeks or more and are significantly getting in the way of your life, this may indicate depression.
When depression has been triggered by a traumatic life event, it can help to reach out and talk with someone about how you’re feeling. In fact, depression and trauma are often linked.
You might reach out to a friend to talk about how you’re feeling, or seek help from a therapist or mental health professional who can help you heal. You can read about the best types of therapy for trauma here. It can also help to read about coping skills for when you’re grieving.
4. Reducing stress
Since stress directly impacts the chemical messengers in your brain, try to reduce it as best as you can if you’re trying to defend against depression.
Ways to manage your stress include:
- listening to music
Consider trying stress reduction techniques or exercises for depression.
5. Speaking with your doctor
Speaking with your doctor or therapist before depression sets in — when you notice the early signs that a depressive episode is coming — is a great way to prevent symptoms from getting worse.
Mental health professionals can help identify your triggers, offer effective coping mechanisms, and suggest other forms of treatment, like antidepressant medication, if needed.
6. Stopping smoking
Smoking cessation leads to increased optimism and quality of life, in contrast to the feelings of anxiety and depression that sometimes come with nicotine use. If you use nicotine, consider taking steps toward quitting.
When it isn’t always possible to avoid depression, treatment is available to help you manage your symptoms and live a fulfilling life.
If you’re unsure how to prevent depression and other conditions, speaking with a doctor is a good place to start. They can evaluate your symptoms, determine a treatment plan that works for you, and recommend other options.
If you need help finding a therapist near you, consult an online directory, a local health organization, a friend, or check with your health insurance. You can also check out Psych Central’s How to Find Mental Health Support resource.
There are also useful mental health apps available for telehealth therapy, stress management, and lifestyle changes that may help reduce your risk for depression.