There is no simple answer to the question, ‘what causes depression?’ There are many different theories about causes, and for each individual the combination of factors that lead to depression may be unique. However, most people would agree that social, psychological, behavioural and physical factors all play a part.

Although it sometimes feels like depression has come out of the blue, it is usually linked to deterioration in mental health resulting from a long term stressor or a stressful life event – especially where there is either a deep sense of loss or of being trapped in unpleasant circumstances. These are often referred to as ‘triggers’ or ‘triggering events’. Some of the more common are:

  • Bereavement
  • Employment problems
  • Illness
  • Social Isolation
  • Debt
  • Unmet needs
  • Relationship problems
  • Disability
  • Childbirth

Whether people become depressed in the face of life stressors will depend upon a range of physical, psychological, behavioural, social and environmental factors that may predispose people to depression or protect them from it.

Where people respond to stressors in unhealthy ways (such as withdrawing from social situations or using alcohol to self-medicate) they increase the risk of becoming depressed.

The most common myth about depression is that it is the result of a ‘chemical imbalance’. This could be a very unhelpful myth. There may be chemical changes in the brain when we are depressed and medication that acts on particular chemicals does seem to help some people. However, we do not truly understand the relationship between depression and brain chemistry as the way the brain works is so complicated and little understood. Talking about depression in these terms may be unhelpful because:

  • It implies we have a better understanding than we do
  • It fails to address the fact that there must be a reason why chemicals would become imbalanced in the first place
  • It can discourage people from taking responsibility for their own health and working toward their own recovery.

Whatever the cause of your depression, please remember it is treatable – and the sooner you seek help, the easier it is to overcome.

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