By Dhanashree Padhye

MA (Psychology)

30 November 2022
Medically reviewed by
Dhanashree Padhye
MA (Psychology)
Table of Contents

Depression is a severe medical illness that causes persistent sadness and losing interest in the activities you previously used to enjoy. Depression has been among the most prevalent mental disorders in the United States for many years.

5% of adults suffer from depression globally, as estimated by WHO. It is a common mood disorder that has an impact on 280 million people in the world currently. Depression may lead to suicide, and it is the leading cause among the age group of 15-29. It is observed that depression affects approximately 5.7 % of older adults.

Martin Seligman quoted depression as a 'common cold' in psychiatry since it has a considerable amount of frequency of diagnosis. Author William Styron called depression "The grey drizzle of horror." 

There was research that found that gender is a risk factor for depression which suggests that from early to middle adolescence and throughout adulthood, females are typically twice as likely to become depressed as males.

Both genetic and environmental factors determine the risk of experiencing traumatizing life events. A direct effect of genes on brain development increases the risk of abnormal personality development, which leads to an inability to deal with traumatic situations appropriately, causing depression. 

Stressful life events are known to precipitate significant depression. However, it remains unclear why some individuals who experience adverse events develop depression whereas others do not and how the occurrence of life events affects treatment outcomes. Clark and Beck showed that the cognitive-personality characteristic of sociology is significantly associated with depressed mood states.  

Risk Factors For Depression

Several factors can make depression more likely. These may include:

  • family history and genetics
  • gender
  • history of trauma
  • personality traits
  • chronic stress
  • unresolved grief or loss
  • medication and substance use
  • poor nutrition

 Family History and Genetics

A survey suggests that genetic factors determine 40% of depression. If a close family member, ex-parent, or sibling, has depression, you have a higher chance of developing depression.

A twin study concluded that identical twins share 100% of their genes, but fraternal twins share 50% of their genes. So it is estimated that if genes play a crucial role in depression, we will expect that if one of the twins is suffering from depression, an identical twin will have a greater chance of having it. But this may not be the case with non-identical or fraternal twins. In some cases, it is entirely genetic; in others, it may not be hereditary. 


Women are more prone to depression than men (ages 14–25 yr), but this ratio decreases with age. They are vulnerable to depression during pregnancy as well as after childbirth. Women may suffer from postpartum depression and during menopause. Some women believe depression can come from hormonal changes throughout life.

Depression is the third highest global burden of disease, growing in Canada and around the world; It will be the leading cause of disease burden by 2030 and is already the leading cause in women globally. Before puberty, girls and boys have similar rates of depression; the rate is perhaps even higher for boys.

Women display internalizing symptoms, and men show externalizing symptoms. In a study of dizygotic twins, women displayed more nervousness about interpersonal relationships, whereas men displayed more sensitivity to external career and goal-oriented factors. 

Women also experience specific forms of depression-related illness, including premenstrual dysphoric disorder, postpartum depression, and postmenopausal depression and Anxiety, that are associated with changes in ovarian hormones and could contribute to the increased prevalence in women.

Chronic Stress

The stress response has a diverse effect on us, increasing our focus on negative things. It will put your body in a more dire state, making you more sensitive to physical and mental hazards. It may help you keep safe but also focus on the unpleasant aspects of your life. That is not helpful as it will distract you from all the positive elements or things in your life.

Physical symptoms of depression may occur due to constant bombarding from stress chemicals. For ex-, weight gain, hypertension, a suppressed immune system, and heart problems – are all the result of stress chemicals in the body. These stress chemicals and hormones seem to have a potent effect on neurons and, therefore, the brain's functioning. 

Stressful events like a divorce or financial changes can be significant stressors. Other stressors include losing a job, breaking up, academic pressure, etc. But if we focus on these stressors, they will increase, and we may get stuck. 
According to Prescott, chronic stress enhances the level of depression.

According to The Mental Health Survey Report from The Mental Health Institution, levels of depression among members of Gen Z went up about 4% or 5% between pre- and post-pandemic, as the pandemic was the main reason for stressed individuals.

History of Trauma

If a patient has a history of trauma, it can have a significant impact on his brain and nervous system. It may not show in the diagnosis of depression. Still, it is essential to understand that emotional responses to trauma can have a powerful impact on our brain (neurological ) and body (physiological ). This affects the chemicals in the brain and nervous system. Hence when faced with excessive stress or an unsafe situation, our body will put on to fight-or-flight response that helps us withdraw from the threat.

Individuals with trauma and Abuse history, especially during early childhood, will develop depressive symptoms sooner or later. 

Childhood trauma may have long-term effects on individuals' tendency to detrimental reactions toward stress and predisposes individuals to suffer from depression—a study aimed at examining stress reactivity in individuals with and without a history of childhood trauma. The study showed that a history of childhood trauma has lifelong effects on adulthood cortisol responses to stress, majorly in depressed individuals.

Personality Traits

Depressive disorder was generally positively associated with Anxiety, Depression, Vulnerability, and Modesty and negatively related to Positive Emotions, Openness to actions, Trust, and Self-Discipline. 

According to one study, people with depression scored higher on neuroticism and low on extraversion and conscientiousness. The study based on the "Big Five" personality traits recommended that a person with depression is more likely to feel insecure, get stressed more often, may experience mood swings, find it difficult to introduce themselves, are afraid of small talk, may feel burned out after socializing, avoid big groups, are more reserved, are disorganized, are impulsive and always finish things at the eleventh hour.

Dupuis and Ramsey (2011) found that a lack of social support is associated with depression and Internet overuse, indicating a weakness in developing real-life networks with others. 

Pervin &John (1997) discuss the Big Five Personality traits in a case study claiming that openness signals availability for an expanded range of new experiences. They are sensitive toward beauty, art, and nature. This trait undoubtedly suits the profile of most young people.

Unresolved Grief or Loss

According to medical standards, grief over three months with impairment in at least two spheres of your life is considered unresolved or complicated.

When it comes to grief, there are intense feelings of emptiness and sadness that usually start to decrease after some time. Whereas in some cases, healing becomes difficult, if you are grieving over losing a loved one, it will take more time to recover from that. This situation, called unresolved grief, leads to depression in some people. It can lead to grief-related major depression if it continues for a prolonged period.

It differs from normal grief in many ways:

  • It lasts longer than normal grief, at times for many years
  • Unresolved grief is more severe and intense, which worsens with time.
  • It will disturb and interfere with the normal functioning of an individual.

People with low self-esteem who feel responsible about the loss or combat their feelings about the person who passed away will experience more grief symptoms. These people tend to refuse to accept the fact about the loss of a loved one, and this tendency affects the healing process responsible for unresolved grief.

Medication and Substance Use

It will be harmful to consume alcohol or drugs while going through the treatment of depression. Alcohol intensifies feelings of lethargy, drowsiness, and depression. 
Alcohol consumption lowers judgment and increases the risk of suicide for the person who is already depressed.

Alcohol and drug use can aggravate the course of depressive disorder by disturbing the symptoms of depression. It interferes with the treatment and increases the likelihood of going to the hospital. Substance Abuse impairs motivation and reduces the effectiveness of therapeutic interventions.  

Side effects are believed to be a direct consequence of the medication's impact on the brain and are relatively similar among various drugs within the same group. Examples include dry mouth, headaches, dizziness, restlessness, and sexual problems. These issues are often perceived as side effects of the medications. But some of them may be caused due to depression. 

Poor Nutrition

Diet substantially impacts mental health, and the outcomes of specific mental health disorders, including depression, may be influenced by nutritional factors.

Nutrition plays a significant role in the onset and severity of depression. Poor appetite skipped meals, and a prevalent desire for sweet foods are the food patterns that precede depression.

The diet pattern in the general population in many Asian and American countries resonates with the deficiency in several nutrients like essential vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids. Studies have demonstrated that a daily dose of essential nutrients reduces the patient's symptoms.

Supplements involving amino acids also reduce the symptoms, as they get converted to neurotransmitters, which lighten depression and other mental health issues. People with depression usually make poor food choices and generally select the food which contributes to depression.

Depression is a disorder associated with significant symptoms such as increased sadness and Anxiety, loss of appetite, depressed mood, and a loss of interest in pleasurable activities. Deficiencies in neurotransmitters are often associated with depression-like serotonin, dopamine, noradrenaline, and γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA). 

Bottom Line From Practical Anxiety Solutions

There are risk factors of depression like childhood history of trauma, unresolved grief, or loss of a loved one which may have a profound impact on a person's mind. These people may experience hallucinations and vivid images or feel like the person exists in reality. If these symptoms are persistent and last for more than six months, it is advisable to take professional help. 
You can also keep an eye on these individuals' diet and sleep patterns because it is possible that whatever stress they are experiencing results from poor nutrition and disturbed routines.
Some people suffer from depression due to a lack of social interactions or not having any friends. These people may not express their emotions and might get into trouble later. Hence it is necessary to take care of these individuals. Also, it is essential to make them understand the importance of being social and help them develop new relationships.

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