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Risk Factors for Depression

Depression can affect anyone at anytime. While certain risk factors are associated with increased risk for depression, people suffering from depression may suffer from different types of depression and even display different signs and symptoms depending on the gender, age, and ethnic and cultural groups. Understanding these differences is essential to seeking treatment and ending the pain.

While depression can strike anyone at any time, research has identified several factors associated with an increased risk for depression:

Family History — Having an immediate family member with depression increases the risk of developing depression. Other mental illnesses, such as alcoholism in family members, can also increase the risk for depression.

Early Childhood Experience — Early childhood trauma, such as loss of a parent before adolescence, child neglect, physical, emotional or sexual abuse, and parental divorce are all linked to increased risk for adult depression.

Stress — Negative life events, such as divorce, loss of a loved one or loss of employment are associated with increased depression. Research shows that chronic stresses (such as illness, lack of social support and numerous “daily hassles”) are also linked to depression.

Alcohol — Depression and alcoholism is often seen in the same patients at the same time. Alcohol is a depressant drug and its presence in a depressed person has serious implications on treatment outcome.

Residence — Depression seems to be higher in urban residents than in rural residents. In fact, one study found that depression was twice as common among city dwellers than among those who lived in rural settings.

Marital Status — Depression is highest among divorced, separated, or co-habitating persons. It is lowest among single and married persons. People living alone have higher rates of depression than those living with others do.

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Work Status — Research shows that people unemployed for six months or more in the last five years had a rate of depression three times that of the general population.

Physical Illness — Certain physical illnesses are associated with depression such as thyroid disorder, hormonal imbalances, chronic viral infections, cancer and heart diseases.

Medications — Many medications can cause depression-like symptoms, including sedatives such as Valium (diazepam) and pain medications such as Percocet and Demerol (meperidine).

Gender — It is estimated that one out of every four women and one out of every 10 men experience some type of depression during their lifetime. While women suffer from depression more often and attempt suicide more frequently, men are more successful in their suicide attempts. Women also suffer from unique forms of depression related to their unique biology and life experiences.

Age — Most people experience their first episode of depression between the ages of 20 and 40. In fact, the average age of onset for depression is the mid-20s. Alarmingly, recent research shows that the average age of onset is decreasing with each generation. Children, adolescents and elderly persons often display unique symptoms of depression and have specific stressful events that predispose them to depression.

Ethnic and cultural groups — The World Health Organization named depression the fourth most devastating illness in the world today and predicts that it will become the second ranked illness by 2020. No ethnic or cultural group is immune. While depression occurs at about the same rate in different groups, ethnic and cultural differences often impact the ways in which their members express their feelings and their willingness to seek treatment.

Tobacco – Increased tobacco use has been noted in depressed persons and individuals with underlying or current depressive symptoms are likely to experience mood disturbances when they attempt to quit.


Michael Herkov, Ph.D., and Wayne Goodman, M.D. also contributed to this article.

Risk Factors for Depression

Josepha Chong, MD

APA Reference
Chong, J. (2020). Risk Factors for Depression. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 20 Apr 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 20 Apr 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.