Causes of Depression

What are the common causes of depression?

Causes of Depression

The onset of depression can usually be traced to one or more of multiple causative factors, which include biological factors, genetic factors, psychosocial factors, environmental factors, etc. Any one or a combination of these factors can be responsible for causing depression in an individual. Each causative factor is described further below.

Whatever the causative factor for depression, it is undoubtedly caused by imbalance in specific chemicals in the brain which are termed neurotransmitters (eg. serotonin). These factors are found to be biological and not due to external factors like emotional or physical stimuli.

Research is ongoing to determine the exact cause of why the levels and chemical composition of neurotransmitters in the brain fluctuate and cause mood changes. It is clear from studies, though, that there are several factors which influence the functioning of these neurotransmitters. These factors or causes of depression are described below.


Studies show that certain types of depression (examples being dysthymia, seasonal depression, bipolar disorder, etc) seem to be prevalent in certain familial lineages. Though research in this area is ongoing and inconclusive at this point, efforts are on to understand which genes predispose an individual to depression.

However, there is no hard and fast evidence to show that you would be at risk for depression just because a family member suffers from the same. It is highly unlikely that the causes of depression can be solely put down to genetic factors.

Personality Traits

Certain personality types are prone to suffer from depression. These would be individuals that tend to be negative in their thinking processes, prone to brooding and deep spells of excessive worry, anxiety, suffering from low self esteem, over dependant on other individuals and those who have very few inbuilt skills to deal with stress.


Life situations, too, present themselves as causes of depression. Changing circumstances that involve major turmoil in life patterns, such as loss of a loved one, upheavals and changes, stressful conditions that occur consistently in a sequential set of events, can cause serious setback to the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain. This leads to unbalanced living and poor decision making, which in turn lead to more stress and therefore, acute states of further depression.

Here, it is important to note that even joyful events can be causes of depression. For example, the birth of a child can lead to stress, anxiety and what is termed “post-partum” blues or depression.


Prescription drugs that are used over an extended period of time, for example prednisone, hypertension medications, medication for the treatment of insomnia, as well as birth control pills, are known to be causes of depression in some individuals.


Onset of disease and disability is also a major causative factor in triggering clinical depression. This condition occurs in a parallel manner with the onset of disease and impairment, and generally occurs in ailments such as cardiac disease, chronic diseases like diabetes mellitus, cancer, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, to name a few.

There is a tendency to believe that depression in such circumstances is normal and not a reason for concern. This is a fallacy and depression should be dealt with in the proper manner and treated appropriately.

Addictions and substance abuse

The popular misconception is that depression is the causative factor that predisposes some individuals to abuse alcohol and drugs via self medication, as mood enhancers. However, studies show that the reverse is also true - addiction and substance abuse lead to depression.


Perhaps one of the most understated and underestimated causes of depression is poor diet. A deficient diet can be the underlying cause for the onset of depression.

Levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, which are key factors for changes in mood, are affected by deficiencies due to lack of adequate vitamins, folic acid, vitamin B12, etc, and that can lead to depression in the individual. Hence, this element also needs to be ruled out through evaluation, while trying to establish the presence of clinical depression in the assessment process.


A significant number of people suffer from chronic dehydration and are unaware of its effects on the mind and the body. Depression is a common symptom of chronic dehydration. There are many reasons why depression and dehydration are linked. One of the most significant reasons is that depression is often connected to insufficient levels of serotonin, an important neurotransmitter.

Besides biochemical factors, psychological and social factors, too, can be causes of depression.

Childhood trauma / abuse

This is a powerful cause of depression both as a child and as a full blown adult, since emotional trauma suffered as a child has a powerful and far-reaching effect on the psyche of an adult.

Lack of social support and loneliness

Another major cause of depression is isolation and lack of support in times of need and stress. Individuals who lack a support system in terms of family, friends, colleagues, etc, in the face of stress and upheavals are more likely to suffer from depression in the long run.

Finances and loss of employment

Financial worries and uncertainty regarding gainful employment are two major stress inducing factors that lead to depression and tragic fatalities like suicide. Both factors affect self-esteem and self-confidence and can be very difficult for the individual to cope with, leading to acute and chronic depression.

In poor economic times and recessionary periods, these causes of depression would be a lot more widespread.

Risk factors for depression in Adults

There are certain people more likely to develop depression than others. In a broad sense, the chances of developing depression are greater among the following:

  • The female gender.
  • The older population (both sexes).
  • People from lower strata of society.
  • Individuals who have recently experienced stressful events.
  • Individuals who suffer from chronic medical diseases.
  • Individuals who suffer from underlying psychological and emotional disorders.
  • Those who have a family history of depression.
  • Individuals who abuse drugs and alcohol.
  • Individuals who lack a support system in terms of family, friends, etc.

Risk factors for depression in Children

In children, the risk factors for and causes of depression can include those listed above for adults, as well as the following:

  • Children who experience continuous emotional stress either at home or in school.
  • Children who have recently lost a parent to death, divorce or separation.
  • Children who suffer from attention and learning disorders or suffer from conduct issues.

Risk factors for depression in the Elderly

Among the elderly population, the risk factors for and causes of depression include the following:

  • Multiple illnesses: Elderly people are likely to suffer from co-occurring illnesses that predispose them to depression, such as diabetes mellitus, cardiac disease, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
  • Effects of medication: As in the aforementioned point, along with co-occurring diseases, the use of medication is higher among the elderly population, and depression is a direct side effect of several drug medications, such as prednisone, etc.
  • Untreated medical conditions: Due to neglect and not having a support system, it is likely that elderly people may allow some diseases such as hypothyroidism to go untreated, which can also lead to higher incidence of depression among the elderly.
  • Isolation due to recent loss of partner: This is also a risk factor that predisposes the elderly to depression, since they lack a support system when they live isolated from the rest of family and society.

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