causes of depression

11 Major Causes of Depression.

Writen By: Faiza Saifur
Reviewed By: Huma Khan
Publish Date: July 19, 2023

Ever thought about the root causes of depression? Perhaps a significant depression diagnosis has led you to wonder why some individuals experience depression while others do not.

Although it’s frequently stated that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance, this figure of speech fails to convey how intricate the condition is. According to study results, having excessive or insufficient amounts of a specific brain chemical does not always cause depression. Instead, there are other reasonable justifications for depression, such as poor mood regulation by the brain, family history, and traumatic life incidents. It is thought that a number of these factors combine to cause depression.

Chemicals indeed serve a purpose in this process, but it is not as straightforward as one chemical being too low or excessive. Instead, a large number of molecules are active, both within and outside of nerve cells. The dynamic system that determines your state of mind, thoughts, and how you perceive life is made up of millions, if not billions, of chemical processes.

We have addressed in this article the causes of depression in detail and also have covered biological factors, chronic pains, genetics, medications, and chronic illnesses that have a role in depression.

Key Takeaways!

  • Childhood abuse, neglect, or trauma increases the risk of developing depression later in life.

  • Having a family history of depression increases an individual’s likelihood of developing the condition.

  • Major life events, such as loss, relationship problems, or job-related stress, can trigger or worsen depression.

  • Hormonal changes during puberty, pregnancy, postpartum period, and menopause can contribute to the risk of depression in women.

  • Chronic medical conditions can increase the likelihood of experiencing depression.

  • Substance abuse and addiction can both contribute to and result from depression.

  • Social isolation, lack of support, and loneliness can increase the risk of depression.

  • Negative thinking patterns, low self-esteem, and rumination can make individuals more vulnerable to depression.

  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that occurs seasonally, often during the winter months.

What Are the Primary Causes of Depression?

Depression is a complex condition influenced by various factors. Here’s a breakdown of the causes mentioned and some additional information to help you understand them better:

1. Abuse: 

Experiencing sexual, physical, or emotional abuse can increase the risk of developing depression later in life. The trauma and emotional toll of abuse can have long-lasting effects on mental health.

A person who has been hurt by someone in a way that made them feel quite sad and empty might be at higher risk of being depressed in later life.

2. Aging: 

Elderly individuals are at an increased risk of depression. Factors such as social isolation, lack of support, and age-related challenges can contribute to the development of depression in older adults.

An older person who needs company but finds no friends and family around them starts feeling lonely, sad, and hopeless which might lead to depression.

3. Certain Drugs: 

Individuals who take drugs to minimize the pains they are going through eventually become addicted to them. Thus when not available it leads to anxiety and stress that causes depression.

People who take steroids for a long time can sometimes make a person feel down and unhappy which contributes to depression.

Taking specific medications like corticosteroids, interferon-alpha (an antiviral medication), or isotretinoin (used for acne treatment) can promote the risk of depression. It’s important to be aware of the potential side effects of these medications and discuss any concerns with a healthcare professional.

4. Conflict: 

Individuals who are already prone to feeling sad and hopeless get into big fights and arguments with their loved ones frequently. It eventually makes them feel that nobody can understand them and thus gets lonely which is a root cause of depression.

So people with a biological tendency to depression may be more prone to experiencing depressive symptoms when facing interpersonal problems or disagreements with friends and family members. Stressful relationships and unresolved disagreements can contribute to the development or worsening of depression.

5. Loss or Demise of a Loved one: 

Individuals who lose someone they love and have a strong bond with them like a family member or close friend, can make them feel incredibly sad for a long time.

Grief and sadness are natural responses to the loss of a loved one. However, the risk of depression may increase during this period. The emotional impact of losing someone close can be overwhelming and may trigger or worsen depressive symptoms.

6. Gender Differences: 

Women are twice as likely as men to experience depression. The exact reasons for this difference are not fully understood, but hormonal changes across a woman’s lifespan, along with social and cultural factors, may contribute to the increased risk.

7. Genes.

If many people in a person’s family have had depression before, they might have chances of experiencing it too because it could be something that runs in their family.

A family history of depression can elevate the risk of developing the condition. Multiple genes with small individual effects are believed to be involved in depression, rather than a single gene determining its occurrence. Understanding the genetic basis of depression is complex, and it differs from more straightforward hereditary diseases.

8. Life Events.

Major life events, such as starting a new job, graduating, getting married, or experiencing significant changes like moving, job loss, divorce, or retirement, can contribute to depression. While it’s common to feel a temporary sense of sadness or stress in response to these events, clinical depression involves more severe and persistent symptoms.

9. Additional Personal Issues.

Other personal challenges, such as social isolation resulting from other mental health conditions or being rejected by family or social groups, can contribute to the development of depression. Feelings of loneliness and lack of social support can hurt mental well-being.

10. Severe Ailments: 

Sometimes, individuals facing serious illnesses like cancer or a chronic pain condition may also experience depression. The burden of dealing with a significant health condition can take an emotional toll and contribute to the development of depressive symptoms. Additionally, certain medical conditions themselves can directly cause depression.

11. Substance Abuse.

If a person is using drugs to avoid pain, it might help them alleviate the pain and make them feel better temporarily but in actuality it makes their depression worse in the long run.

Substance abuse and depression are closely linked. According to PubMed, around 30% of people with substance abuse issues also have significant or clinical depression. While drugs and alcohol may temporarily alleviate negative emotions, they ultimately worsen depression and can lead to a vicious cycle of dependency and worsening mental health.

Can Nutritional Deficiencies Lead to Depression?

Yes, Depression, anxiety, and mood swings can be worsened by vitamin B insufficiency. Both the neurological system and the blood vessels are thought to be affected by it. In terms of mood regulation, B12/B9, or folate, is on the top of the list. People who are depressed typically have reduced blood levels of folate (B12/B9).

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for maintaining mental acuity and a cheerful disposition. Thus its deficiency can cause depression.

Not only depression but Certain mental illness symptoms, including agitation, anxiety, irritability, sleeplessness, headache, and hallucinations, are known to worsen when there is a magnesium imbalance.

The deficiency that causes most serious symptoms and affects billions of individuals globally is by certainly the probiotic lack. Probiotics are alive bacterial and yeast mixtures that spontaneously inhabit the human gastrointestinal system and help with good digestion, managing stress, mood enhancement, and mental wellness. Thus its deficiency too can cause depression. While balanced probiotics reduce the risk of depression.

What are the Biological Causes of Depression?

When compared to those who do not experience depressive symptoms, experts have found changes in the brains of individuals who suffer from depression. Some individuals with depression have a smaller hippocampus than others who have never had depression, hippocampus is a small part of the brain that is crucial for memory storage. There are fewer serotonin receptors in a tinier hippocampus. Serotonin is  One of the numerous neurotransmittersā€”brain chemicals that enable communication across circuits connecting the brain areas involved in processing emotions.

The hippocampus may be tinier in depressed people for Anonymous reasons. According to the research by PubMed, unhappy individuals who tend to remain sad for longer periods create an extreme quantity of the stress hormone which is known as cortisol. According to these researchers, cortisol has a harmful or “shrinking” effect on the hippocampus’ development. 

What are the Genetic Causes of Depression?

We are familiar that depression sometimes runs in families. This displays that depression may have a hereditary component, at least in part. It is somewhat more common for children, siblings, and parents of persons with severe depression to experience depression than those in the general population. The multiple conditions of depression that run in families are possibly induced by a mixture of genes functioning in unusual ways. Even yet, it is unlikely that there is a single “depression” gene; rather, there are likely multiple genes that each have a minor effect on depression when they interact with the environment.

Can Some Medications Lead to Depression?

Some people may develop depression as a result of drug use. “benzodiazepines, Barbiturates and isotretinoin which is used for acne treatment can lead to depression”. Identical to other medications, mood changes can sometimes be brought on by “corticosteroids, opioids (codeine, morphine), and anticholinergics used to treat stomach cramps”.  

Can Chronic Illness Cause Depression?

Depression may result from a chronic disease in certain persons. A chronic ailment lasts for an extended period and typically cannot be fully healed. However, nutrition, exercise, lifestyle modifications, and some medicines may frequently be used to manage chronic conditions. Diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, renal disease, HIV and AIDS, lupus, and multiple sclerosis (MS) are a few examples of chronic conditions that can lead to depression.  

Can Chronic Pain Cause Depression?

Pain that lasts for several weeks to months is referred to as “chronic.” Chronic pain interferes with your ability to sleep, exercise, and be active, as well as your relationships and job productivity. Can you see how suffering from chronic pain may also make you feel down, alone, and depressed?

Depression and constant pain are both treatable. You may prevent your pain, get rid of persistent sadness, and begin your life again with the support of a comprehensive program that combines medication, psychotherapy, support groups, and additional services.

Are Depression and Grief the Same?

Grief is a typical, acceptable reaction to loss. Losses that can cause sadness include losing a loved one, losing a job, losing a cherished pet, or going through any number of other life transitions like divorce, being an “empty nester,” or retiring.

Everyone can undergo grief and loss, but not everyone has depression.  depression differs from grief in that it involves a variety of additional symptoms, such as low self-worth, gloomy thoughts about the future, and suicidal ideation, whereas grief is characterized by feelings of emptiness, loss, and longing for a loved one with an intact capacity to experience pleasure. The way each person handles stress is different.

Read these top 5 books for a better understanding of the Causes of Depression.

“The Noonday Demon: by Andrew Solomonā€ 

A comprehensive exploration of depression that combines personal memoir, scientific research, and cultural insights, offering a deep understanding of the condition.

“Lost Connections by Johann Hariā€ 

Investigates the societal factors that contribute to depression and explore alternative approaches to treatment and prevention.

“The Upward Spiral by Alex Korbā€

Examines the neuroscience behind depression and provides practical strategies and techniques for overcoming it.

“Depression: A Public Feeling” by Ann Cvetkovich.

Explores the intersection of depression, politics, and culture, examining how social and cultural factors shape the experience and understanding of depression.

“Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression” edited by Nell Casey.

A collection of essays and personal stories by various writers that delves into the complexities of depression, offering diverse perspectives on the condition.

FAQS about the Causes of Depression.

Can a traumatic childhood lead to depression in adulthood?

Yes, studies suggest, experiencing traumatic events during childhood, such as abuse or neglect, can increase the risk of developing depression later in life. Trauma leaves long-lasting effects on mental health. 

Does a lack of exercise play a role in depression?

Exercise has been indicated to have a favorable influence on mental health. Lack of exercise may contribute to feelings of low mood or depression. Engaging in regular physical activity, even in small amounts, can have mood-lifting effects.

Can trauma cause depression?

Yes, experiencing trauma, like a bad event or a difficult situation, can sometimes lead to depression. Trauma can affect our thoughts and feelings, making us more likely to feel sad or down.

Can social media use lead to depression?

Excessive or negative use of social media can impact mental health. Constant comparison, cyberbullying, and reduced face-to-face interaction may contribute to feelings of depression. It’s important to use social media in moderation and prioritize real-life connections.

Does stress cause depression?

Yes, stress can contribute to depression. When we have too much stress for a long time, it can affect our mood and make us feel overwhelmed, sad, or hopeless.

Are hormonal imbalances linked to depression?

Yes, hormonal imbalances (when our body’s chemicals are not balanced) can sometimes be linked to depression. Changes in hormones, like during puberty or after giving birth, can affect our mood.

Can financial difficulties lead to depression?

Financial stress and difficulties can have a significant impact on mental health. The pressure of financial instability, debt, or unemployment can contribute to feelings of sadness, anxiety, and depression. Seeking assistance and support in managing financial challenges can be helpful. 

Can a lack of sunlight cause depression?

Sunlight helps our body produce vitamin D, which can affect our mood. Lack of sunlight, especially during darker months, may contribute to a type of depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD).


In conclusion, depression has many different causes. It is not just because of one thing, but a mix of genes, body chemistry, environment, and how we think and feel. Some people are more likely to get depressed because of the genes or chemicals in their brains. Different life events like the loss of someone or being unhealthy can likewise make depression happen. Feeling alone, not having help, and society’s expectations can add to depression too.

Understanding that depression has many causes is important so we can find ways to prevent and treat it. We need to find depression early and help people learn about it. This includes using medicine and therapy, but also making changes to our lifestyle, having support from others, and not treating depression like something to be ashamed of.

We should all work together to make sure mental health is taken seriously and that people with depression get the help and support they need to live happier lives.