November 2, 2020

What are the Causes of Depression [2020]

Written by Sara Lane


What are the Causes of Depression

Do you feel sad for very long periods of time?

Have you been feeling detached or numb? Have you been feeling outright empty and have been wondering why? You may be feeling depressed.

Though this condition’s look can vary greatly, the causes of depression are far more concise. Depression can affect anyone at any time. It doesn’t matter ethnicity, age, or standing in life.

Depression is a debilitating disease that can make you feel utterly hopeless and isolated, no matter who you are.

You should not feel ashamed of these feelings. Millions of Americans are diagnosed with depression every year.

It can have a myriad of causes. You are not invincible, and neither is your mental health.

See if any of these causes resonate with you. If they do, consider making an appointment with one of our licensed professional counselors to help you understand and navigate these difficult feelings.  


causes of depression

What are the Causes of Depression? 

Resulting from several environmental, biological, and genetic factors, depression is a complex disorder. There’s rarely one direct cause you can pinpoint. 

Biological factors contribute to some cases of depression, along with changes in the body’s chemistry that influence mood and thought processes. Some more severe and even chronic illnesses such as heart disease or cancer may be accompanied by depression. 

However, for many individuals, depression signals first and foremost that certain mental and emotional aspects of their lives are out of balance.

Significant transitions and major life changes, such as the death of a loved one or losing a job, can help bring about depression.

Other more subtle factors that lead to a loss of identity or self-esteem may also contribute.  So the disorder requires careful evaluation and diagnosis by a trained mental health care professional.

Sometimes the circumstances involved in depression are ones over which you have no control. At other times, however, depression occurs when people cannot see that they have choices and can change their lives. 

What are the common causes of depression? They aren’t always apparent.

So it’s crucial to work with a trained therapist or mental health professional to help identify relevant factors and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

Because depression is often the sum of various factors, it can feel confusing and shameful when you’re depressed. In truth, there are many reasons for your depression.

Environmental Factors that Can Cause Depression

Anything that affects you directly, but is outside of you, is environmental. 

  • Stress – A major life event such as the loss of a job, death of a family member, divorce, chronic illness, or ongoing health problems of a family member can trigger depression. Everyday life stress can also build up and lead to depression. Chronic stress can lead to burnout or depression. 

  • Loss of identity – Difficulty developing one’s own identity and self-esteem may also contribute to depression. Feelings such as inadequacy and unmet needs for love and acceptance are factors.

  • Lack of ControlDepression can result from situations in which someone feels they have little or no control. While this may be true in some cases (i.e., the loss of a job), it is also possible to identify choices that one does have to bring about positive change and feel in charge again.

  • Caring for a Family Member – While valuable and essential, working as a caregiver can also be physically and emotionally draining and reduce the amount of time spent on supportive activities. Then there’s also the emotional aspect of watching someone you love suffer from illness.

  • Lack of Social Support – As humans, we are social animals. We need much more than just food and water to sustain our health. We also need connection, touch, and contact with other human beings. When we become isolated and alone, and particularly when we’re struggling with negative feelings on our own, depression can ensue.

  • Bottling It Up – When we routinely stuff our emotions, this can lead to depression over time. We need our feelings to move through us like a wave by acknowledging them and allowing them to be felt (which, when we don’t resist them, it only lasts about 90 seconds). Once felt and experienced, our emotions give us information about what we need, which can address.


Experiencing our emotions allows us to let them move through us and meet our own needs. When we stuff them, distract from them, avoid or ignore them, or use substances to contain them, our emotions build up inside.

Everything becomes “depressed”, and we are left feeling numb and empty. Binge eating is an example of pushing feelings aside.

causes of depression


Biological Factors that Can Cause Depression

Clinical depression may also be tied to imbalances in the biochemicals, called neurotransmitters. They regulate mood and activity while carrying impulses or messages between nerve cells in the brain.

An imbalance in the amount of neurotransmitters’ activity can cause major disruptions in thought, emotion, and behavior.

Some people develop depression as a reaction to other biological factors such as chronic pain, medications, hypothyroidism, vitamin deficiency, hormone imbalance, or other medical illnesses such as heart disease or cancer.

If you are experiencing depression symptoms, it’s important to have a thorough exam by your doctor.



Psychological Trauma that Causes Depression

Depression has biological and psychological causes, but what’s true in most cases is that you’ve lost touch with your ability to access your emotions. Maybe your perspectives are overwhelming to you.

This can happen in the case of subtle psychological traumas. Trauma might include a car accident, war, natural disaster, physical or sexual abuse, or a crime.

However, trauma can occur over time and occur in less obvious ways. If your parents punished you for feeling sad, bullied, neglected, or criticized consistently, you might have also experienced trauma.


Early Attachment Relationships

As young children, we are dependent on our caregivers to provide for us and help us feel safe, valuable, worthwhile, and lovable. Sometimes, it’s difficult for our caregivers to give to those emotional needs.

Perhaps they themselves are dealing with mental illnesses and don’t have the energy, are too stressed, have a limited amount of time, don’t know how to recognize emotions, or are abusive in worse-case scenarios.

When our emotions, needs, and desires aren’t acknowledged, it can lead us to feel that it must be our fault.

We falsely assume that we’re unworthy, unlovable, or unimportant, contributing to negative beliefs about ourselves. Negative thoughts about ourselves can contribute to depression.

Furthermore, our natural emotions, needs, and desires may also have been labeled as “wrong” and therefore repressed, which further contributes to depression.

When loved ones continually condemn someone’s sentiments, it can lead to the numbness that characterizes depression.

Major Life Changes Play a Role in Depression

The death of a loved one or the loss of a job can stir up self-blaming thoughts. When something big in your life has changed, it can be hard to stop the cycle of negative feelings.

Maybe a divorce brings up old feelings of inadequacy you’ve been harboring for many years.

Like a big move or a child going to college, even positive life changes can trigger a depressive episode.

Sometimes, the anticipation of loss can trigger depression as you anticipate the pain you might experience. Medical issues such as chronic illness can also trigger depression as you feel a loss of control over significant aspects of your life.

causes of depression

Social Pressures

From adolescence, you’ve likely dealt with pressure to look or behave a certain way. If you feel like your efforts to fit in or please others go unnoticed, you might start to blame yourself.

You might give up hope. In particular, physical expectations are tough to manage—if you’re depressed and feeling bad about how you look, getting out for exercise can be really hard, and healthy foods don’t sound as comforting.

These habits of thought can all lead to a cycle of depression where you feel inadequate and unmotivated. It is not easy to get unstuck from these feelings on your own.

Genetic Factors, Causes of Depression

If a sibling or parent suffers from depression, you have a greater chance of experiencing it yourself. Because depression appears to be connected to certain biological factors, people can inherit a predisposition to developing depression.

In fact, 25% of those people with depression have a relative with some form of this illness.

If feeling depressed is in your gene pool, it could be much harder for you to bounce back from a difficult time in your life than for someone else going through the same thing.

Depression is more common among parents, children, and siblings of people who are diagnosed with depression. 

However, just because a family experiences depression doesn’t necessarily mean you will too. Just remember that family history generally makes your chances of encountering any condition greater. 

causes of depression

Your Biology

Researchers have shown that there are real, comparative, and biological differences in the brains of people who are and aren’t depressed. Biological depression can hang over your life like a dark cloud, following you whether you exercise, eat well, or meditate.

Imbalanced chemicals in your mind can make you feel bad no matter what it is actively going on in your life. It can feel like you’re never going to get better.

Keep in mind that just because it feels this way doesn’t mean it will be this way.

Substance Abuse

When you’re unhappy or anxious, it can be tempting to turn to what seems like instant pick-me-ups. The truth is that alcohol and certain drugs often make you feel worse and cause depression-related feelings. Dependence on substances can make you feel angry at yourself or like you’re out of control.

Using drugs and alcohol may make you feel better for a short time, but they will lead you to feel much worse in the long run. 

Battling depression is incredibly difficult, but a substance-fueled depressive state is much harder to battle alone. Merely wanting to escape from a cycle of addiction isn’t enough to shake it; without help, you will get drawn back in.

Depression and Socioeconomic Factors

Depression does not seem to be related to ethnicity, education, income, or marital status. It is slightly more common for women than men.

Some researchers believe that depression strikes more often in women who have a history of emotional and sexual abuse, economic deprivation, or are dependent on others.

The average age at the onset of a depressive episode is in the mid-20s. People born more recently are receiving diagnoses of depression at a younger age than previous generations.

Though depression can affect any person at any point in their life regardless of economic standing, being in a financial situation certainly doesn’t help stabilize mental health. 


Physical Causes of Depression

Many Houston physicians believe that depression results from a chemical imbalance in the brain. They often prescribe antidepressant medication, and many people find relief as a result.

However, there is no reliable test to identify such chemical imbalances. It is unknown whether life experiences cause mood changes, which create brain chemistry changes, or whether it works in reverse.

Mood disorders can be associated with physical events such as other diseases, physical trauma, and hormonal changes. A depressed person should always have a physical examination as part of the assessment process to determine the role of physical causes.

Depression is No Joke

Depression is a serious illness, not a harmless part of life. It’s a complex disorder with a variety of causes.

It is not caused by just one thing but can result from a mix of factors, including genetic, chemical, physical, and sociological. This condition is also influenced by behavior patterns learned in the family and by cognitive distortions.

Now that you understand the causes of depression, read more on “How to Deal with Depression” 

causes of depression

Next Steps

If you are concerned that you may be depressed, consider getting professional help. Read more about how depression treatment can help.

You can get started now. Give us a call to schedule an appointment at 832-559-2622 or schedule an appointment online.

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