Depression affects people of every age, economic situation, and race. Even though
depression is common — especially in teens — some people get depressed but others don't. Why?
There's No One Reason for Depression
Lots of things influence whether a person gets depressed. Some of it is biology
— things like our genes,
brain chemistry, and hormones. Some is environment, including daylight and seasons,
or social and family situations we face. And some is personality, like how we react
to life events or the support systems we create for ourselves. All these things can
help shape whether or not a person becomes depressed.
Research shows that depression runs in families. Some people inherit genes that
contribute to depression. But not everyone who has a family member with depression
will develop it too. And many people with no family history of depression
still get depressed. So genes are one factor, but they aren't the only reason for
Chemicals called neurotransmitters (pronounced: nur-oh-TRANZ-mit-urs) help send
messages between nerve cells in the brain. Some neurotransmitters regulate mood. When
a person is depressed, these neurotransmitters might be in low supply or not effective
Genes and brain chemistry can
be connected: Having the genes for depression may make a person more likely to have
the neurotransmitter problem that is part of depression.
Stress, Health, and Hormones
Things like stress, using alcohol or drugs, and hormone changes also affect the
brain's delicate chemistry and mood.
Some health conditions may cause
depression-like symptoms. For example, hypothyroidism is
known to cause a depressed mood in some people. Mono
can drain a person's energy. When health conditions are diagnosed and treated by a
doctor, the depression-like symptoms usually disappear.
Getting enough sleep and regular
exercise often has a positive effect on neurotransmitter activity and mood.
Daylight and Seasons
Daylight affects how the brain produces melatonin and serotonin. These neurotransmitters
help regulate a person's sleep–wake cycles, energy, and mood. When there is less daylight, the brain produces more melatonin.
When there is more daylight, the brain makes more serotonin.
Shorter days and longer hours
of darkness in fall and winter may lead the body to have more melatonin and less serotonin.
This imbalance is what creates the conditions for depression in some people — a
condition known as seasonal affective
disorder (SAD). Exposure to light can help improve mood for people affected by
The death of a family
member, friend, or pet sometimes
goes beyond normal grief and leads to depression. Other difficult life events — such as when parents divorce,
separate, or remarry — can
Whether or not difficult life
situations lead to depression can depend a lot on how well a person is able to cope,
stay positive, and receive support.
Family and Social Environment
For some people,
a negative, stressful, or unhappy family atmosphere can lead to depression. Other
high-stress living situations — such as poverty, homelessness, or violence —
can contribute, too. Dealing with bullying, harassment, or peer pressure leaves some people feeling isolated, victimized,
Situations like these don't necessarily
lead to depression, but facing them without relief or support can make it easier to
Reacting to Life Situations
Life is full of ups and downs. Stress, hassles, and setbacks happen (but hopefully
not too often). How we react to life's struggles matters a lot. A person's outlook
can contribute to depression — or
it can help guard against it.
Research shows that a positive
outlook acts as a protection against depression, even for people who have the
genes, brain chemistry, or life situations that put them at risk for developing it.
The opposite is also true: People who tend to think more negatively may be more at
risk for developing depression.
We can't control our genes, brain
chemistry, or some of the other things that contribute to depression. But we do have
control over how we see situations and how we cope.
Making an effort to think positively — like believing there's
a way around any problem — helps ward off depression. So does developing
coping skills and a support system of positive relationships. These things help build
resilience (the quality that helps people bounce back and do well, even in difficult
Here are three ways to build
Try thinking of change
as a challenging and normal part of life. When a problem crops up, take action
to solve it.
Remind yourself that
setbacks and problems are temporary and solvable. Nothing lasts forever.
Build a support system.
Ask friends and family for help
(or just a shoulder to cry on) when you need it. Offer to help when they need it.
This kind of give and take creates strong relationships that help people weather life's
Being positive and resilient
isn't a magic shield that automatically protects us from depression. But these qualities
can help offset the other factors that might lead to trouble.