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What are the main causes of depression?

Depression can be caused by a wide range of psychological, physical and environmental factors.

Everyone is different, so it’s hard to predict what will trigger it. Often, many of these factors can combine or ‘snowball’ to make your mood worse over time.

Here are just some of reasons that depression can occur:

Thoughts and feelings

Your general mental state can be a key factor in your depression. Being under constant strain can take its toll, so you should see a doctor if you’re struggling with:

  • Stress - at work or home, dealing with a chronic illness of your own or someone close to you, or a bereavement
  • Grief - such as the death of a close relative or loss of a treasured possession
  • Loneliness - for example, being cut off from your friends and family can increase your risk

Your Family History

If an immediate family member, such as a parent, grandparent or sibling, has previously suffered from depression, this increases the chance that you will too.

An imbalance of chemicals in your brain

Different hormones are associated with certain moods, so if there’s a chemical imbalance in your brain, your mood is affected and it could cause depression.

Relationship Issues

The break-up of a relationship can be very traumatic. You may be faced with a sudden change in your living situation, or feel as though your life has taken a step backwards. If you have children, not seeing them every day can be very difficult.

While we’re on the subject of children, don’t forget that they can be affected by relationships ending too. Young children and teenagers can suffer from depression when their parents split up or divorce.

Your job

Your job can have a negative impact on your mental health in a number of ways. A heavy workload or lack of work/life balance can put too much pressure on you and lead to depression.

It may be that you simply don’t like your job, but feel nervous about making a change, or trapped in your current situation.

You may also feel down about the prospect of losing your job, either due to a poor performance review or your company deciding to make cutbacks.

Money worries

If you’re struggling financially, the prospect of not being able to pay your bills and losing your home can be frightening and could trigger depression.

Being in debt can be very worrying too, and it’s something many people will hide from their friends and family. The pressure of keeping this secret can make depression even more likely.

Social media

Looking at other people’s social media profiles may leave you with the feeling that their lives are more successful or enjoyable than yours.

It’s important to remember that this is usually not the case.

Social media offers a highly filtered version of a person’s life and it’s likely that they’re facing many of the same challenges as you. Remember that people only tend to publish things that place them in a positive light!

Traumatic incidents

If you’ve suffered physical, psychological or sexual abuse in the past, it can be tough to talk about. It can also affect crucial areas of your life, such as your relationships with others. Many people don’t address these feelings and over time, this can lead to depression.

Then there’s bullying, which can happen anywhere and affect people of any age. It’s most often associated with children at school, but can just as easily happen in the workplace, or within a social group. Being bullied can erode your confidence and mental strength over time.

If you’re unfortunate enough to be the victim of a crime, the trauma of your experience can lead to depression further down the line. This can also happen if you witness a crime first-hand.

Substance abuse

Using alcohol or illegal drugs can alter your mental state and trigger depression. If you’re already feeling low, turning to these substances can make your symptoms even worse.

Alcohol is a natural depressant, while drugs can create feelings of paranoia and affect the chemical balance of your brain.

If you regularly exceed the recommended limit of 14 units of alcohol per week, binge drink, or habitually use any drug, this could contribute to your depression and reduce the chance of medication or talking therapy succeeding.

Read more about the treatment for substance abuse.

Medication side effects

Before you’re prescribed any medication, your doctor will explain the possible side effects to you, including mood swings. In some cases, your medication may initially make your symptoms worse before they start to get better. It’s important that you fully understand what these side effects are before treatment can begin.

These side effects can also happen if you don’t wean yourself off antidepressants properly. Your doctor will help you do this and it’s vital that you listen to their instructions when the time comes to stop taking any medication.

Medical conditions

Discovering you have a life-threatening illness, such as cancer, diabetes or heart disease, can seriously affect your mental health.

The after effects of illness can also cause depression, for example, if they alter your appearance or prevent you from doing things you previously enjoyed.

Additionally, certain medical conditions have depression as one of their side effects, such as eating disorders, anxiety and addiction.

Severe head or brain injuries

This sort of injury can damage certain areas of your brain and cause depression. You may need specialist treatment to deal with the impact of your injury and adjust to how it has affected your mental health.