What causes depression?
There are no simple answers to this question. Depression arises from many factors. It can develop at any age, even in childhood and during the teen years. Traumatic events, such as the death of a family member or friend, can lead to ongoing depression. Hormonal changes and chronic stress, too, may contribute to depression.
Factors known to influence the development of depression:
- Stress and psychological factors: Everyone deals with stress differently. What may be unsettling to one person—relationship challenges, moving, graduating from school, or having trouble at work—may be highly stressful to another. It’s not so much that the stress itself causes depression, it’s how a person’s brain chemistry responds to stress.
- Genetics and family history: A family history of depression points to a greater likelihood of developing depression. But just because there is no family history does not automatically mean you will never experience depression; it can show up in anyone. Likewise, a family history of depression does not automatically mean you will experience bouts of it in your life.
- Physiological factors: Researchers have found that the hippocampus, a small brain structure that plays a big part in storing memories, is smaller in those who are depressed. At this point, it’s unknown if a small hippocampus contributes to depression or if it is the result of depression.
Neurotransmitters are chemicals that carry signals from one nervous system cell to another. They have a profound effect on how we experience pleasure and mood. Serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine are the neurotransmitters most commonly associated with depression. Many depression treatments help balance the level of these neurotransmitters in the brain.
Another brain structure involved in depression is the hypothalamus. It is a small structure at the base of the brain responsible for many bodily functions, such as sleep, appetite, and stress reaction. It’s believed that for neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine to communicate with the brain, the hypothalamus must be working correctly.
Malfunctioning thyroid gland
Similarly, a malfunctioning thyroid gland can contribute to depression. The thyroid is a small gland at the base of the neck. Among its duties is to produce two hormones that regulate how cells in the body use energy. In some cases, depression results from an underfunctioning thyroid.
Consult a healthcare provider
Because many factors contribute to depression, it is important to consult a healthcare provider, such as your primary care physician, a psychologist, or psychiatrist to help you assess if you’re depressed and to help you find the right treatment.