What Causes Depression?

What Causes Depression? - Aurora Mental Health Central MN

What Causes Depression?

If you’re one of the more than 17 million U.S. adults affected by depression, you know the symptoms can take a good day and make it bad almost instantly. It can affect every aspect of your life and is considered a leading cause of disability by the World Health Organization. The first step in managing depression is knowing what causes it.

Causes of Depression

No one knows with certainty what causes depression, but it could be many things. Some of it’s biological — made up of our genes, brain chemistry, and hormones. There could be environmental factors, too, like hours of daylight and seasonal changes, or stressful social and family situations. Personality has a significant role, including how people respond to life events or to unique support systems someone creates as an individual. Each of these can influence whether someone becomes depressed. 

Brain Chemistry

Chemicals called neurotransmitters help transmit messages between nerve cells in your brain, but if they become weakened or damaged, psychological problems can happen. Why? Because certain neurotransmitters regulate mood. So if you’re depressed, it’s possible that natural supplies of glutamate, for example, run low or lose their effectiveness. But ketamine has been known to strengthen and repair faulty neurotransmitters, helping to reduce symptoms of depression. In fact, a version of ketamine received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval in 2019 to combat treatment-resistant depression.

Genes and brain chemistry are interconnected, meaning the depression gene could make you more likely to have faulty neurotransmitters, which can trigger sadness and low moods.


Depression runs in families, making the genetic link more interesting. It’s possible you could inherit genes that influence depression, but not everyone with a biological family member with depression will get it. And there are people with no family record of depression who still come down with the condition. What does this mean? Genes are a factor in getting depression, but there are other influences, too.

Health and Hormones

If you experience high, long-term stress levels, misuse alcohol or other substances, or have hormonal changes, your brain’s delicate chemistry and mood can get thrown out of order.

Some health conditions can trigger depression-like symptoms. For example, cancer, stroke, chronic pain, or heart disease can lead to depressed moods in some people. Mononucleosis can zap you of your energy, leading to lengthy, but temporary weakness and other symptoms indicative of depression. The good news? Underlying medical conditions leading to depressive symptoms can often be treated, allowing your moods to return to normal.

Lack of sleep and a sedentary lifestyle can also affect neurotransmitter activity and moods. 

Lack of Daylight and Seasonal Changes

Daylight influences the production of melatonin and serotonin and causes depressive symptoms in some people. Why? These neurotransmitters help control your sleep-wake cycles, energy levels, and moods. Less daylight means more melatonin; more daylight equals more serotonin.

Shorter days, less sunlight, and more nighttime hours in fall and winter can result in your body having more melatonin and less serotonin. This chemical imbalance is a simmering cauldron for the ingredients which create depression in some people, something called seasonal affective disorder. The good news? Exposure to light can improve your mood if you’re affected by this kind of depression.

Life Stressors

If you’ve experienced the loss of a family member, friend, or pet, emotions can go beyond normal grief and result in depression. But there are other stressors, too, such as a failed marriage, loss of employment, or problems in your friend circle, which can trigger depression. The good news? Your ability to cope with these stressful life events, stay positive, and seek out and receive support can reduce your chances of depression.

Family and Social Interactions

If you’re part of a family unit awash with negative emotions, high-stress levels, or a generally unhappy atmosphere, you can be heading for depression. But other stressful living situations play a significant role, too. Things like poverty, homelessness, or violence can lead to depression. And instances of bullying, harassment, or peer pressure can lead to feelings of isolation, victimization, and insecurity.

Not all of these situations lead to depression, and some people use them as a springboard to become emotionally stronger and build coping mechanisms to survive.

If you have symptoms of depression, it’s crucial to talk to a healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment options before your quality of life begins to worsen. Many kinds of treatment may help, including psychotherapy, antidepressants, and ketamine therapy.

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