Although a challenging life event, such as the death of a loved one or financial hardship, can trigger depressive episodes, the causes of depression are complex and overlapping. There are two main categories of risks that can contribute to depression—those that you can't change, and those that you can.
Uncontrollable Risk Factors
These variables are out of your control. Although you can't do anything to change them, it's important to know whether you fall into any of these higher-risk categories.
While you can’t change things like family history or your environment, you can control certain factors related to your lifestyle—the choices you make each day about what to eat and how to care for yourself. These are areas of your life where you can take proactive steps to help prevent and treat depression and enhance your overall health.
- Your family history. Depression appears to have a genetic component. You are more likely to experience depression if one of your parents also suffered from depression. If both parents had depression, your risk of developing it is twice as high.
- Your gender. Women are twice as likely to experience depression as men. Experts believe this is due to fluctuating hormone levels that women experience throughout life.
- Your age. While you may think that the risk of developing depression increases with age, that's not the always the case. In fact, studies show that the elderly are more likely to be happy and content with their lives than their younger counterparts. Depression can occur at any age (even in children), but it is most common in people between the ages of 24 and 44.
- Your health history. Chronic health conditions such as disability, heart disease, hypothyroidism, stroke, cancer, diabetes, multiple sclerosis (MS), and Parkinson’s disease can lead to depression. A history of depression also increases your risk for future episodes.
- Psychosocial factors. Depression is more common in people who have a history of trauma, abuse (sexual, physical or emotional), neglect, alcoholism, drug addiction, and insufficient family structure.
- Environmental factors. Chronic depression occurs more often in people who live in areas afflicted with war, natural disasters, and poverty. Seasonal depression is most common in high latitudes with extreme seasonal changes.
- Life changes. The loss of a loved one, conflicts with others, losing or starting a new job, the end of a relationship, retirement, moving to a new city and more—many life events can trigger depressive episodes.
Controllable Risk Factors
While lifestyle changes alone cannot treat depression, talk with your health care provider if you think the factors above may be affecting your mood, thoughts and behavior. Every small lifestyle change you can make, in conjunction with the treatment plan laid out by your doctor, can improve your overall health and help enhance the effectiveness of medical interventions.
- Your diet. Food can affect your mood. A diet too low in iron, healthy carbohydrates, and calories can cause symptoms of depression. Eating plenty of calories, whole grain carbohydrates, Omega-3 fatty acids, and iron-rich foods can improve symptoms. Learn how to eat well when dealing with depression.
- Your activity level. Inactive people tend to have higher stress levels, difficulty sleeping, anxiety, and mood swings. Regular exercise produces "feel good" chemicals in the brain, enhancing the benefits of antidepressant medications, and producing similar results. Learn more about exercising to relieve depression.
- Your alcohol & drug use. For many, depression and substance abuse are closely connected. Alcohol and illicit drugs can interact with medications, worsen depression and its symptoms, and prevent recovery. If you think you have a problem with drugs or alcohol, seek help.
- Your sleeping patterns. Changes in your sleeping habits and the quality of your sleep can be closely related to your mood. A lack of sleep can cause many symptoms similar to those of depression. Get tips for better shut-eye.
- Your medications. Several types of medications can cause depression. If you think your medication may be contributing to your symptoms, talk to your doctor about finding an alternative medication for your condition that doesn't have this negative side effect.
- Your stress levels. People with uncontrolled, chronic stress are more prone to developing depression. Taking time to relax and relieve stress through exercise, meditation, yoga or other techniques can help.