Why Are Some People More Prone to Depression?

Why Do People Get Depressed?
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Question:  Some people seem to be able to shake things off easily, hardly ever feeling blue.  Others seem to fold at even the slightest hint of adversity.  Why do some people get depressed, but others don't, even under the same circumstances?

Answer:  Although it's not known exactly why some people are more prone to depression than others, it is probably a combination of several factors which cause this condition to occur.

  Among the factors which have been associated with a greater likelihood of having depression are:

  • Neurotransmitter defects - Research indicates that changes in the function and effect of mood-regulating chemicals called neurotransmitters may play an important part in causing depression.
  • Genetics - If there is a history of depression in your family, then you are more likely to become depressed too.  However, it doesn't appear to be quite so clear-cut a link as it is with genetic diseases like, for example, cystic fibrosis or Huntington's chorea.   In other words, having a genetic predisposition towards depression does not mean that you will automatically become depressed.  There seem to be other factors at play as well.
  • Hormones - Certain changes in your hormonal balance can make you more likely to become depressed.  For example, women going through the hormonal changes associated with giving birth to a child or people who have certain thyroid conditions may experience the symptoms of depression.
  • Early trauma and abuse - People who went through traumatic events during their youth appear to be somehow primed to be more susceptible to depression later in life.
  • Prescription medications - Certain medications - such as Accutane, interferon-alpha, sleeping pills and corticosteroids - may increase a person's risk for depression.
  • Drug abuse - Just like some prescription medications can cause depression, certain illegal drugs can also cause these symptoms to occur.  Treating co-occurring depression and substance abuse can be tricky, however, because people may begin using drugs as a way of self-medicating their depression.  It can become difficult to sort out whether they use drugs as a means of escaping the depression or they are depressed because of the drug's effects.
  • Pain and illness - Pain and illness are associated with an increased risk for depression for a few different reasons.  First of all, the illness itself may create biochemical changes which lead to depression symptoms.  Secondly, people may become depressed about the state of their health as they face lingering pain, loss of normal functioning and sometimes even the threat of dying.
  • Death and loss - The stress caused by a death or any other extreme loss can be enough to trigger an episode of depression in someone who already possesses the tendency towards this condition.
  • Personality - Certain personality traits, such as low self-esteem, being overly-dependent on others, pessimism and being self-critical are all associated with a greater tendency towards developing depression.
  • Interpersonal conflict - Going through conflicts with friends and/or family can be stressful, increasing the changes that a person who is prone to depression may develop this condition.
  • Stress - Major life events - and that can include "good" events like getting married or "bad" events like losing a job - all may create stress.  When we are stressed, our cortisol levels rise, possibly affecting the transmission of the mood-regulating molecule serotonin.

As you can see, depression can a very complicated condition, with certain factors, such as biologically-based differences in the functioning of the brain, perhaps setting up a tendency for becoming depressed more easily when a person is faced with certain other risk factors.

Sources:

"Causes of Depression."  WebMD.  WebMD, LLC.  Reviewed:  By Joseph Goldberg, MD on February 08, 2014.  Accessed:  November 23, 2015.

Grohol, John M.  "The Causes of Depression."  Psych Central.  Psych Central.  Published:  December 6, 2006.  Last reviewed:  By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on May 19, 2015.  Accessed:  November 23, 2015.

Mayo Clinic Staff.  "Depression (Major Depressive Disorder:  Causes."  Mayo Clinic.  Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.  Published:  July 22, 2015.  Accessed:  November 23, 2015.

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