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The Possible Causes of Depression: A Basic Overview

What causes depression? No one knows the exact reason, but there are many factors (e.g. biochemical, genetic, environmental) that may play a part in clinical depression. Different theories have been proposed.

Causes of Depression

  • Brain Chemistry Imbalance - According to the monoamine hypothesis, there is a deficient level of the neurotransmitters (the brain’s chemical substances) such as Serotonin and Norepinephrine.
  • Genetic Factors - A genetic predisposition for some types of depression may be inherited. For example, it is estimated that if a parent has depression, it is 1.5 to 3 times more likely that their children will develop depression1.
  • Stressful Events - A trauma, crisis or life transition (e.g. death, end of a relationship, divorce, financial problems, losing a job) can cause a depressive disorder. Also, traumatic childhood experiences (e.g. loss of a parent, abuse, being abandoned, serious illness) can cause one to be more likely to develop depression in later life.

Other Possible Depression Causes

  • Certain medical conditions (e.g. hypothyroidism, diabetes, chronic pain, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, stroke, multiple sclerosis). Therefore, it is important to see a doctor to rule out a physical cause of depression.
  • Particular drugs can cause depression such as alcohol, anti-anxiety drugs, medicines for high blood pressure, birth control pills.
  • Certain personality characteristics can make you more susceptible to developing depression (e.g. low self-esteem, pessimism, easily overwhelmed by stress).

Some people may get depressed for no apparent cause. This type of depression is called endogenous depression. However, some experts believe that even in this kind of depression, there is still a cause (e.g. chemical brain imbalance).

It is also believed that some of the above causes (e.g. trauma, alcohol) may lead to chemical changes in the brain, which in turn result in depression.

Some people may develop depression quickly in reaction to a stressful trigger and others may feel depressed slowly over time (e.g. after facing several setbacks or stressful life events).

Regardless of the cause, it is important to get appropriate depression help treatment. If depression goes untreated, it may worsen over time and lead to dangerous consequences (e.g. suicide) and make one more susceptible for further depressive episodes.


1. Source - Diagnostic and Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition.


Also see: [ signs of depression ] [ types ] [ depression help ]




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