Depression is a mental health disorder that can affect anyone, at any time. More than 300 million people worldwide deal with depression, yet some people are more prone to depression than others. To understand why this is the case, let’s examine the causes of depression along with its associated risk factors.
Why Does Depression Occur?
There is no exact reason why a person experiences depression. In certain cases, an imbalance of chemicals in the brain may contribute to depression symptoms. In other instances, one’s genetics, environment, stress, and other factors can lead to depression.
Researchers have studied the brain extensively to learn how brain chemistry influences depression symptoms. So far, they have proven that depression is related to the brain’s neurotransmitters — chemical messengers that balance signals between nerve cells (neurons). In one study, researchers discovered a relationship between the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin and Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) symptoms. They found that an increase or decrease in these neurotransmitters can trigger different MDD symptoms, and concluded that various MDD symptoms could be assigned to specific neurochemical mechanisms.
In addition to a chemical imbalance in the brain, depression may also be linked to one’s genetics. Some studies suggest that certain gene variations increase the risk of depression. However, other research indicates that genetic factors alone won’t cause depression, but genetic factors in combination with environmental factors and stress increase the risk of depression. While there is no universal genetic factor associated with depression, studies have identified some important environmental and emotional stress factors that contribute to depression.
For example, experiencing a history of abuse and neglect can cause severe physical and emotional damage, and has also been proven to increase the risk of depression and other mental health disorders. Additionally, research indicates that people living in poverty are twice as likely to experience depression in comparison to those who live above the poverty level. Pollution and other environmental conditions during childhood may cause psychological damage and lead to behavioral disruptions that result in depression later in life.
Another environmental concern can also be the time of year, as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can trigger depression during certain seasons and annually affects between 1% and 10% of people. While SAD may be due to a chemical imbalance triggered by different levels of seasonal sunlight exposure, it’s likely these other environmental factors contribute to depression because they habitually trigger the body’s stress response.
Researchers have studied the link between stress and depression, and to date, they have discovered that chronic stress causes overactivity of the body’s stress-response mechanism, leading to elevated stress hormones that contribute to depression symptoms. In fact, a study published in Nature highlighted the link between chronic stress and depression. In the study, researchers evaluated normal mice and v-TK mice. The v-TK mice were modified to prevent them from producing neurons in the brain as adults. Researchers tested each group’s psychological response to a stressor, along with their behavioral response to stress. Researchers found that v-TK mice had elevated stress hormones in contrast to normal mice when both groups were exposed to a stressor. When stress hormones are elevated, the body produces fewer neurotransmitters that regulate biological processes such as appetite, mood, and sleep; this increases the risk of chronic stress that leads to depression.
The ways in which biology can make one more prone to depression continue to be studied, as it is ultimately a series of complex relationships that are just as chemical as they are social and environmental. For example, researchers have observed a correlation between depression and one’s gender and ethnicity. This is not causal so much as a correlation; while one’s gender and ethnicity do not directly cause depression, there is a correlation due to a complex system of influencing factors. For example, while it’s true that depression affects both males and females, it’s apparent that being female can make one more prone to depression. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports unipolar depression is twice as common in women than men, due in part to both biological and social factors. Additionally, WHO states that depression is the most common mental health problem for women.
Besides gender, various factors among different ethnicities may make certain people more prone to depression. In its “National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified ethnic background as a possible depression risk factor. The survey revealed depression rates were lower among non-Hispanic Asian adults than Hispanic, non-Hispanic black, and non-Hispanic white adults. Research continues to be conducted to investigate potential factors that contribute to depression rates among different ethnic groups.
One’s age may also play a role in depression, with young adults more likely to be depressed and more likely to act upon their depression symptoms. The aforementioned CDC survey also showed that approximately 8.1% of American adults age 20 and over experienced depression symptoms during a given two-week period between 2013 and 2016. Other research indicated that depression is less prevalent in older adults than younger adults, as younger adults are reportedly more affected by bereavement and physical illness. This research revealed that the suicide rates in younger adults are higher than those in the elderly, and the suicide rates in younger adults tend be associated with depression.
While age may make you more or less prone to depression, lifestyle factors will contribute to depression at any age. Specific lifestyle factors have been proven to be related to depression, reflected in a study of more than 3,400 multiple sclerosis patients conducted over a two-and-a-half-year period. In the study, researchers used a patient health questionnaire to analyze the link between lifestyle and risk of depression. Researchers ultimately found that the following lifestyle changes may help multiple sclerosis patients reduce the risk of depression:
- Low to moderate alcohol consumption or no alcohol consumption
- Being a non-smoker
- Vitamin D supplementation
- Regular exercise
- Use of omega 3 supplements
- Maintaining a quality diet that contains plenty of minerals, nutrients, and vitamins
- No meat or dairy intake
While some of these lifestyle changes may help lower the risk of depression, one should always seek professional treatment as these changes alone may not be sufficient to manage depression symptoms.
In addition to these lifestyle habits, it has been proven that certain social life factors may contribute to the onset of depression. For example, in one study of 449 women between the ages of 18 and 65, researchers found that a lack of intimacy with a spouse, cohabitant, or boyfriend increased a woman’s risk of depression. Also, it has been shown that traumatic life events can increase the risk of depression. In a study published in Psychiatric Research, it’s suggested that the loss of a loved one or other traumatic experiences may lead to depression. However, the influence of these traumatic events on depression symptoms often varies based on the individual.
How to Treat Depression Symptoms
If you are prone to depression, it is important to seek out professional treatment and find the right therapy that works for you. A doctor or psychiatrist can prescribe antidepressant medications to treat depression symptoms, or you may choose to undergo Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or other forms of psychotherapy to help work through your depression symptoms and find effective coping strategies.
At Achieve TMS, we offer cutting-edge transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy for severe depression. This form of treatment is FDA-cleared for treating depression and has been shown to be especially effective for treating Major Depressive Disorder or Treatment Resistant Depression. Our team of expert physicians oversee each TMS treatment to ensure patients can safely and effectively treat their depression symptoms. We also provide flexible scheduling, over 21 convenient office locations, and a relaxing and comfortable office environment designed to help our patients achieve their desired results.
The Achieve TMS team is happy to discuss if TMS treatment is right for you. To schedule a free consultation, you can either call or text us at 877-296-5032 or contact us online.