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Just as no single pill cures depression, no single thing causes it.

Genetics play a role in your susceptibility as does your outlook on life; and chronic or acute stress, medical problems, drug or alcohol abuse and financial difficulties are other possible building blocks of depression. Depression often occurs after people live through a number of these variables that work together to create a major depressive episode (clinical depression).

See below for a list of some of the more common causes of depression.

The Causes of Depression

Genetics and Heredity

If you have a parent or other close family member who has experienced a major depression, you are at an increased risk of the disease. Studies done on identical twins separated at birth prove the genetic link to depression, but families also teach behaviors that may predispose a person – you can also learn your inheritance to the disease.

Growing up in a family with a depressive parent might teach you behaviors that elevate your risks of a major depression, for example:

  • Emotional distance over closeness
  • Learned helplessness over control
  • Poor problem solving skills that increase your exposure to life's stresses

Stress or Emotional Trauma

The death of a loved one, the loss of a job, the end of an important personal relationship; difficult life events can trigger depression – and even positive but life-changing events, such as getting married, can sometimes trigger the disease.

Medical Problems

People diagnosed with a serious medical condition sometimes experience co-occurring depression brought on by stress and worry, or by illness caused changes in lifestyle, such as a loss of mobility.

Additionally, certain medical conditions seem to cause physiological changes that increase susceptibility to depression. Certain cancers, for example, can cause depression prior to diagnosis and while the patient remains asymptomatic.

Personality Factors

People with certain personality types seem more susceptible to some forms of depression. Personality factors associated with higher incidence rates of depression include:

  • Pessimism
  • Shyness
  • Anxiety
  • Low self esteem
  • Perfectionism
  • Others

Substance Abuse

Abusing alcohol or certain drugs increases your risks of depression.

  • The effects of certain drugs on brain chemistry can lead to depressive episodes or even major depression.
  • The abuse of alcohol or drugs increases the likelihood of experiencing significant life stressors, such as legal problems, job loss, or family strain.
  • Certain drugs (opiates, cocaine, crystal meth, others) cause withdrawal symptoms that include lasting depression.

Social Isolation

Loneliness increases the risks. Social isolation and a lack of social emotional support increases the impact of life's stressors.

Physiological Changes in the Brain

People with depression often have altered levels of certain neurotransmitters, particularly serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, and particularly in areas of the brain that regulate mood and memory.

It's not yet clear whether altered brain functioning causes major depression or whether major depression alters brain functioning. Also, since anti-depressant medications that stabilize neurochemical levels do not work for everyone and take a long time to have any effect, brain chemical fluctuations are likely only one aspect/cause of depression.

No Obvious Reason

Some people fall into a major depression for no apparent or obvious reason.

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Page last updated Aug 05, 2010

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