Causes of depression

This page covers some possible causes of depression.

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Research suggests that depression is often caused by more than one factor, you cannot generalise all depression and say it stems from the same thing for everyone.

We will discuss some typical things that cause depression and what kind of effects they may have. Some people find themselves depressed without an obvious trigger. 

Family history

While no specific gene has been identified as the direct cause of depression, studies indicate a higher likelihood of experiencing depression if a close family member also has the condition. This increased risk might stem from biological factors. Additionally, the behaviours and coping mechanisms we observe and learn from those around us during our upbringing play a significant role.

The interplay between our genetic makeup and the environment we’re raised in appears to significantly influence the development of depression. Both genetic predispositions and learned behaviours from our surroundings contribute to whether we might face depression at some point in our lives.

Childhood experiences

Experiencing difficult situations in childhood, such as abuse, neglect, loss, trauma, or an unstable family environment, can increase your vulnerability to depression in adulthood.

These early experiences can significantly impact your self-esteem and the way you cope with stress and emotions. As a result, you may find it challenging to manage difficult situations later in life, potentially leading to depression.

Visit our page on support options for abuse to find organisations that can help if you’ve experienced abuse.

Other mental health problems

If you experience another mental health problem, it’s common also to experience depression. 

This might be because coping with the symptoms of another mental health problem can trigger depression.

You may be more likely to experience depression if you also experience:

  • Anxiety
  • Eating problems
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Life events

We can experience depression after going through a traumatic or stressful event. This is tricky to define as a whole, as people differ from one to another.

There are many different triggers, and everyone can react differently. Some example may include:

  • Relationship problems or the end of a relationship
  • Bereavement
  • Major life changes, like changing job, moving house or getting married
  • Losing your job or experiencing money problems
  • Being bullied or abused, including experiencing racism
  • Being physically or sexually assaulted

It may not be just the event that causes depression, but also how a person may react and cope to an event.

These effects can take longer to manifest but may be able to be traced back to a particular event or events.

The people around us can also have an impact on how events could make a person feel.

Physical health problems

Physical health problems can lead to depression in several ways. 

When someone is dealing with a long-term health issue, such as a chronic illness or a severe injury, it can greatly affect their life, making them feel like they’ve lost control. This can lead to feelings of hopelessness and sadness, common signs of depression. 

Additionally, some health conditions can directly affect the brain’s chemistry and contribute to depression. The stress of managing a health problem, the impact it has on one’s ability to do everyday activities, and the isolation it can cause are all factors that can make someone more likely to become depressed.

It’s important to look after both our physical and mental health, as they are closely connected.

Speak to your doctor if you think you are experiencing physical health problems which you feel is affecting your mental health.

Sleep, diet and exercise

Some of us may struggle with sleeping, getting active, or keeping a healthy diet. And if we find these things difficult, it can affect our mood.

These things are unlikely to cause depression on their own. But they could make us more vulnerable to it.


Depression can sometimes be a side effect of medications. To find out if depression is listed as a possible side effect of your medicine, you can check the patient information leaflet (PIL) that comes with your medication. Alternatively, you can ask your doctor or pharmacist for information on potential side effects.

If you suspect your medication is contributing to depression, it’s important to discuss this with your doctor. They can consider prescribing an alternative, especially if your treatment is expected to be long-term.

Recreational drugs and alcohol

Alcohol and recreational drugs can both contribute to depression. Some of us may use them to make ourselves feel better or distract ourselves. But they can make us feel worse in the long term.

Styles of thinking 

Those of us who experience certain patterns of thinking may be more likely to develop depression. For example, if we tend to blame ourselves for negative events. Or think about the same negative event over and over.

If you experience negative patterns of thinking, there are ways to get help. For example, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) could help you notice negative patterns of thinking. And it can help you find ways to cope.

Get support

Talk with a trained professional about your thoughts and feelings with out free counselling and private counselling service for people over the age of 18.

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