How is depression caused? What can you do about it? Those are two big questions, and it would take a whole book to cover both of them–each. So attempting to do that in a single blog post is quite a challenge. But, through this attempt, we get a short yet comprehensive summary that can hopefully lead to reflection and appropriate action.
First of all, it can’t be emphasized enough that depression is a very complicated condition that can have not just one but multiple causes. The key thing to note is that whatever the cause(s), they ultimately alter a person’s brain chemistry. Similar to how someone who goes through trauma might suffer from PTSD, certain things can cause neurological changes to a person’s brain leading to “clinical” depression.
For example, researchers have found that the hippocampus (the part of the brain that stores memories) is smaller in depressed people. The smaller the hippocampus, the less serotonin receptors (1). And serotonin happens to be one of the chemicals in the brain that regulate emotions.
There is still a lot more research that remains on the specific regions, chemicals, and pathways in the brain that are linked to depression. There is also some debate on how much of depression can be attributed to genetics. In other words, is a person’s depressive brain chemistry something that they pass down or is it more so their struggles and psychological trauma that they pass on? Perhaps a combination of both?
Although there are a lot of unanswered questions and misconceptions about depression, the point here is that depression doesn’t come from nowhere. It has a cause or combination of causes that accumulate, leading to progressive changes to a person’s brain chemistry.
Listed below are the most common causes (1):
- Unfortunate life events and psychological trauma such as abuse, death/loss, divorce, conflict, isolation, ostracization, major illness, etc.
- Substance abuse such as alcohol
- Certain medications
- Low-self esteem
- Lack of sleep and constant fatigue
- Family history or situation
The cause or combination of causes of depression can accumulate, leading progressive neurological changes. Eventually, these changes become the brain’s homeostasis. This is when the brain forgets how to create feel-good chemicals like dopamine and serotonin. It forgets how to be happy.
Keep in mind that antidepressants may help to balance an unbalanced brain chemistry through what are called “neurotrophic effects; (1)” however, without addressing the root cause(s) of depression it is still there, only masked. Therefore treatment should not be regarded only as a pill but as a journey of appropriate action steps to revert neurological changes. Which is why it’s so important to not ignore or try to mask depression but to talk about it. Talk to someone, seek help, and nurture a more positive mindset. It’s only through appropriate actions that you will see the biggest impact.
Meanwhile, the journey is not the same for everyone. Treating depression is not a one size fits all situation. What you do would be different depending on what you’ve identified as your cause(s). For example, if it’s substance abuse, seek rehab. If it’s death/loss, seek loss therapy. If it’s psychological trauma (that you may or may not be aware of) seek help from a clinical psychologist and/or counselor. Perhaps it’s a major illness. If so, seek emotional support and spiritual guidance. It all starts with a deep reflection on the reason(s) why you feel the way you do. Dig deep.
Take a look at the list of causes and honestly reflect on your own life. What in your past and/or present might contribute to feelings of depression? How can you address these things? What appropriate action steps can you take?
Remember, change is not going to come easy. Often times, depression doesn’t happen overnight. Therefore, getting rid of it might not happen overnight either. Yet, whether change comes slowly or quickly, the effort you make will be well worth it each and every day you do something to alter your course and your mind.