The Causes of Depression

What causes depression?

Unlike the flu, which is caused by a virus, depression can be caused by many factors. Most people who get depressed have multiple risk factors. This means that the search for the "real" cause is often unhelpful.

It's useful to remember that depression seldom has just one cause. A more helpful approach is to try to identify as many of our own risk factors as we can. Knowing how we got into this deep valley may help us to find a way out. Treatment can often be targeted to the specific risk factors that contributed to the problem.

There are three kinds of risk factor that professionals consider.

  • Vulnerability factors. These factors don't predict when a person will become depressed, or even if they will ever become depressed. They contribute to the underlying risk that a given person will someday develop depression.

  • Triggers. These factors help turn a vulnerability into an actual depression. They turn up in our lives and impose stress on us. If enough stressful straws pile up on our camel's back, we can become depressed.

  • Maintaining factors. Once a depression has begun, what keeps it going? Sometimes the risk factors that started a depression stick around to maintain it. But depression also brings a host of symptoms, many of which can contribute to a depression becoming worse.

The risk factors for depression fall into nine general categories. In the book Your Depression Map, these categories are organized into an overall picture of depression that is itself called the Depression Map.

The Depression Map is made up of nine categories, or nodes:

  • Biology. Our genetic makeup, prenatal environment, and gender may all influence our vulnerability to depression.

  • History. Things that happened to us in our distant past can have an influence on our vulnerability to depression years or decades later.

  • Thought. Certain ways of thinking seem to put us at greater risk of depression.

  • Behaviour. The things that we do and the way we live our lives can put us at much greater risk of depression. Alternatively, we can live our lives in a way that minimizes the risk.

  • Physiology. Factors such as diet, underlying illness, prescription medication, and recreational drugs can all have an impact on our risk of depression.

  • Emotion. Humans are emotional beings. The way we respond to our emotions, however, can influence our risk of depression.

  • Situation. The things that happen to us, our home, our workplace, our finances, and other factors can all influence the likelihood of depression.

  • Social Network. Difficulties in our relationships with others can be tremendously stressful, and strongly influence our vulnerability to depression.

  • Meaning. What's the point of existence? Many people find that this and related questions lie at the heart of their depression.

Note: Information on these pages is provided for educational purposes only. It should not be taken as a substitute for care from a qualified healthcare provider.