If you are experiencing symptoms of depression or have ever experienced a depressive episode in the past, you may wonder why you have developed these symptoms. You may not be familiar with the common causes of depression either.
Happiness is a fickle thing. It’s often governed by factors and circumstances that are entirely outside of your control. Good and bad times get all jumbled up together. It’s easy to find yourself up one day and down the next.
When is Depression Different from Feeling Down?
But what happens when the bad days start piling up higher than the good ones? What do you do when you’ve been down for so long you begin forgetting what it feels like to be up? When does your “slump” become a cause for concern, a possible sign of depression?
It is both natural and common for people who are mentally healthy to feel down sometimes. However, periods of sadness, irritability, or emotional numbness lasting longer than two weeks may actually be signs of a depressive episode.
Common symptoms of depression include but are not limited to lethargy, changes in appetite, changes in sleep patterns, disinterest in things that once brought joy, physical aches and pains, and a pervasive feeling of “lowness.”
Researchers and mental health professionals are still unclear on the specific causes of depression. However, there are some prevailing thoughts on what may make some people more likely to develop depression than others. This article will explore some of these theories and seek to answer the following question: what are the most common causes of depression?
What is Major Depression?
Major depression is defined as a mood disorder characterized by feelings of sadness, hopelessness, low mood, and loss of interest. These symptoms must last no less than two weeks to be considered a depressive episode.
Only a mental health professional can diagnose major depression and come up with a personalized plan of treatment. Depression is one of the most common mental health complaints and should be taken seriously as symptoms can worsen without the proper support and treatment.In addition to the broad category of major depression, some other types of depression include:
Persistent Depressive Disorder: When symptoms of depression last two years or longer, a patient may be diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder. Symptoms may fluctuate in intensity over time, but they don’t fully resolve.
Seasonal Affective Disorder: When symptoms of depression recur predictably around the same time every year and resolve on their own around springtime, this may be an indication of seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. This type of depression generally lasts throughout the winter months when there is the least amount of natural sunlight. SAD is often co-occurring with vitamin D deficiency.
Postpartum Depression: When a woman experiences feelings of anxiety and depression that go beyond the typical “baby blues,” she may be suffering from postpartum depression. This type of depression is characterized by extreme sadness, worry, and exhaustion that interferes with a new mother’s ability to care for herself and her child.
Psychotic Depression: When depressive symptoms are accompanied by delusions or hallucinations, a patient may be diagnosed with psychotic depression. The psychotic symptoms of this type of depression tend to have a depressive, self-conscious theme.
What are the Common Causes of Depression?
A number of factors are believed to contribute to the development of depression. There may be genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological indicators that can predict a person’s likelihood of being diagnosed with depression at some point in their life. Many of these indicators are still under-researched and up for debate.
It may be most helpful to think of mental health in the same terms we speak about physical health. A body is more likely to become ill if its immune system is compromised or weak in some way. The same is true for a mind. If a person’s mental immune system has been weakened or damaged by unrealistic beliefs, low self-esteem, extreme pessimism about the future, etc., then it may be more likely to develop a disordered way of thinking or processing emotion.
“The vulnerability of the depression-prone person is attributable to the constellation of enduring negative attitudes about self, world, and future. Even though these attitudes (or concepts) may not be prominent or even discernible at a given time, they persist in a latent state like an explosive charge ready to be detonated by an appropriate set of conditions. Once activated, these concepts dominate the person’s thinking and lead to the typical depressive symptomatology.” (A. et al., 2009)
So, what are some of the categories of background and experience that help create this constellation of attitudes? Some potential causes of depression are:
Family History: Though it is still unclear whether or not there is a genetic or heritable component to depression, there is evidence suggesting individuals who are closely related to a depression sufferer are more likely to be diagnosed with depression at some point in their lives.
Traumatic Events: Difficult emotional experiences can act as triggers for depressive episodes. Individuals who experience abuse, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job or important relationship, or other trauma may develop symptoms of depression.
Persistent Stress: Ongoing stress related to finances, relationships, or life situations can also sometimes be a trigger for depressive symptoms. It is also possible for symptoms to be triggered by a major life change, even when it has been well planned or chosen by the individual.
Chronic Illness or Disability: Chronic pain, cancer, diabetes, degenerative diseases, or any other medical condition that does not resolve quickly or at all can trigger the onset of depressive symptoms. The hopelessness sometimes caused by on-going medical issues can also exacerbate the symptoms of people already experiencing depression.
Major Hormonal Changes: Post-partum depression, pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder, and depression cooccurring with menopause are all related to major hormonal changes in a woman’s body. People with thyroid conditions causing imbalanced hormones may also be more likely to experience symptoms of depression than the general population.
Getting Help for the Symptoms and Causes of Depression
If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of depression that have lasted longer than two weeks or are so severe as to interfere with daily life, seek help from your community, your primary care physician, or mental health professional.
Treatment can greatly help manage and even resolve depressive episodes. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may be able to start taking steps today that can help you live a healthier life.
Mild depressive symptoms
If you are experiencing mild depressive symptoms of undiagnosed depression, you may be advised to “wait and see” if the symptoms will resolve on their own. While you are waiting, you may try to add some exercise to your daily schedule. Physical movement and moderate exertion have proven mental health benefits.
You may also try talking with a trusted friend or relative, attending a support group for your specific difficulty, and thinking about counseling.
Moderate depressive symptoms
If you are experiencing moderate depressive symptoms with or without a diagnosis, it is time to start a conversation with your primary care provider about your symptoms. Your doctor will be able to make sure any underlying physical health conditions are treated, and they will be able to refer you to any mental health services you may require.
Whether or not your doctor refers you to a psychologist, you can seek out a local counselor or therapist to help support you. This mental health professional will be able to help you come up with a treatment plan that meets your individual needs.
Severe depressive symptoms
If you are experiencing more severe depressive symptoms, seek treatment right away. Reach out to your support system if you are able, and let your loved ones know how you are struggling. Get in touch with a counselor or therapist who can help.
Treatment plans may include talk therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or group therapy. You may also be prescribed anti-depressants in combination with other therapeutic strategies.
Many things can trigger depression. Researchers still don’t have a full understanding of how different risk factors work together to cause one individual to develop depression when another does not. Ultimately, whatever the cause, your symptoms of depression deserve to be taken seriously. There is help available and many options for treatment that can meaningfully improve your life. Don’t wait. Reach out to a counselor today.
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