5 Causes of Depression: The Common Culprits

5 Causes of Depression: The Common Culprits

statistics on depression reveal the extent of this widespread mental health condition – the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that in a single year, between 5-12% of people will suffer from at least one episode of major depression. These episodes can have a huge impact on the individual’s life.

When looking at lifespans as a whole, about 20% of people will suffer from a mood disorder at some point in their lives; this can include depression, anxiety, etc.

It’s more than likely that someone you know is living with depression, which may or may not have been diagnosed.

What Is Depression’s Root Cause?

Since depression affects so many lives, this leads us to ask what causes this condition. Psychologists have been exploring the possible causes of depression for many years. They’ve drawn some conclusions, but there are no easy answers, and the explanations we do have are complex and vary according to the individual.

Different Types of Depression

It’s important to give a definition of depression since the term can encompass a range of more specific conditions. The hallmark diagnosis is called Major Depressive Disorder, and under this umbrella are 14 more specific diagnoses that can be made by therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists.

When making a specific diagnosis, mental health professionals account for severity, whether or not the condition occurs in a repeating cycle, and whether or not there are psychotic symptoms present. In any of these categories, the standard minimum for diagnosis is a major depressive episode lasting for two weeks or more, with impacts on both mood and motivation.

Dysthymia is a long-term, less severe form of depression that can linger for years. Although it may not be as acutely painful, this chronic, continual condition can be exhausting and debilitating.

Another common type of depression is based on an adjustment disorder. This can be triggered by painful or stressful events, leading to a depressed mood, which can eventually turn into a major depressive episode.

A final significant type of depression to mention is bipolar depression, wherein the sufferer fluctuates between low and high moods. The “high” of bipolar can feel pleasant but often triggers destructive behavior.

The common thread running through the various types of depression is a long-lasting period of sadness and lack of motivation.

Since depression presents in so many different ways, it’s vital for therapists to ask a lot of questions to make an accurate diagnosis. For example, an adjustment disorder with depression might be based on the environment or circumstances more than brain function, and this can be processed in therapy.

By contrast, it can be hard to pinpoint the cause of a major depressive episode. These episodes can start suddenly, overwhelmingly, and seem to have no rhyme or reason. This type of depression is often based on brain chemistry issues. A psychiatrist may be most helpful in this case.

Possible Causes of Depression

Let’s take a closer look at some of the common causes of depression:


A popular commercial created a visual for depression using a two-dimensional blob bouncing around in black and white with a huge frown on its face. This is, of course, an oversimplified caricature of depression, but it does point to the reality of neurotransmitters in the brain, as the illustration included little triangles floating between two knobs corrected to larger neurons.

This illustration managed to demonstrate the possible imbalance of chemicals that can have a significant impact on our mood and mental health.

Neurons are cells that transmit information throughout the body and brain. They have the capacity to fire signals that allow us to think, experience emotions and memories, and maintain both voluntary and involuntary control over our physical functions.

Serotonin is a specific neurotransmitter that has a positive impact on mood. Dopamine is another. Antidepressants work by balancing neurotransmitter levels.

It can be challenging to medicate depression effectively because of the complexity of the brain and how widely the response differs based on the individual. Finding the right antidepressant can require a period of trial and error.

Other steps can be taken in the meantime, however, such as exercising and improving one’s diet. These can help ignite the process of recovery. Of course, the nature of depression often makes it difficult to find the motivation to be more active, but if you can incorporate it into your life you can see a positive change to your mood very quickly.


Genetics is another major factor in depression. Your chances of developing depression are much higher if you have a family member suffering from it, especially if they are a parent or sibling. Genetic predisposition is a powerful component in this disorder.

Genes affect brain development and how neurotransmitters interact, but they are not a decisive predictor. Even identical twins do not have a 100% correlation between brain disorders. And some people are depressed even without a family history of depression. This is why we say that while genes increase the likelihood of depression, they do not cause it, but are often combined with other factors, such as the next one.


One professor described this cause of depression as a gun that was loaded by genetics, with the trigger being pulled by the environment. If someone is genetically predisposed to develop depression, they will often be triggered into developing it by their environment.

Examples of environment include workplace stress, the loss of a loved one, or even the weather (as seen in seasonal affective disorder).

The environmental category also describes a common threshold that would generally trigger depression in almost anyone, such as being oppressed or bereaved. Each person has an individual threshold at which they will inevitably suffer depression because we are humans who are susceptible to being affected by our circumstances.


This is a physical trigger for depression that can easily be overlooked. Anemia reduces energy levels, leading to reduced motivation and often low self-esteem. This might present as depression, however, the cause isn’t a chemical imbalance, but a lack of iron in the blood.

When someone who is anemic experiences this sadness and lack of motivation, they often seek therapy and describe symptoms of depression, but any prescribed antidepressants won’t help. After a long period of trying to find the right medication, the feeling of depression will linger, fueling a sense of hopelessness.

It’s important to consider whether low iron might be contributing to your mental condition. You could ask for a blood test, or even just try to eat iron-rich foods more often and test their effects on your mood.


It’s important to note that depression is not your fault because you’re too sinful or not praying enough. The assumption that a person’s depression is because they’re out of line spiritually has inflicted a lot of damage.

This is evidenced by the fact that many individuals who have major sin issues do not have depression, while people living moral lives often struggle with depression. This situation is not hopeless; God can use our emotional state to draw us closer to Himself.

One common factor in this category is gradually withdrawing from spiritual habits that helped fulfill us in the past, such as Bible studies, small groups, or volunteering. Although it can be tempting to isolate when depressed, maintaining social connections and spiritual activities can be crucial to keep a depressed person from spiraling further downward.

People often withdraw because of their depression, not the other way around. Therefore, know that it’s important to intentionally stay involved and that it can help your mood and sense of personal value.

As we’ve discussed, depression is often rooted in physical causes, and we should be confident that we can ask God to provide both physical and emotional healing.

Treatment for Depression

Depression often consumes the life of someone suffering from it. Treatments must address the wide range of issues that can contribute to this mental condition. According to research, a combination of both therapy and medication generally provides the best outcome for sufferers.

If you’re depressed, you might feel trapped in a pit that you can never climb out of. Medication can be like someone tossing a rope down into the pit. You’ll need to put in the work to climb out, but that is a much more achievable goal when you actually have a rope.

Some people are in deeper pits than others. If your pit is more shallow, you might be able to climb out without the help of medication, but for others, that’s not possible. This isn’t a judgment about your worth as a person; it’s just a matter of assessing your individual situation and responding in the most helpful way.

The act of seeking therapy alone often jump starts the recovery process. Christian Counseling Newport Beach can work with you to make progress in various areas of your life. He or she can also identify any thought processes you have that contribute to your mental health condition so that you can challenge false beliefs with truth.

For some, simply identifying the depression and processing it is enough to begin to climb out of it. A psychiatric referral may be in order to help you identify a medication that can work for you. And in general, therapy can help you uncover the cause(s) of your depression and start you on your healing process.


“Darkness,” courtesy of Andrik Langfield Petrides, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Laundromat,” courtesy of Drew Roberts, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Alone time,” courtesy of Steven Spassov, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Waiting,” courtesy of Shashank Sahay, unsplash.com, CC0 License


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