What Causes Depression? | cannabisMD

What Causes Depression?

What Causes Depression

A woman is lying down on a couch, deep in thought.

Depression is a condition that is not completely understood. Science does not yet know what causes depression. It may be caused by genetic, biological, environmental or psychological factors or a combination of these. Major depression or major depressive disorder can be a life threatening medical condition that ruins lives and leads to suicide, so it is more important than ever to understand this complex illness.

Some of the common causes or risk factors include:

  • Being a blood relative of someone who has or has had depression. Researchers have identified genes which means that depression can actually run in families.
  • A major and traumatic life change, such as bereavement, loss of employment, divorce, exposure to conflict, employment changes, sexual assault and abuse can often lead to depression.
  • Some medical illnesses like stroke, cancer, cardiovascular disease, hypothyroidism; Alzheimer’s disease, chronic pain or other chronic illness.
  • Some physical traumas such as severe head injuries and injuries to the pituitary gland.
  • The use of alcohol (a depressant) and certain drugs, legal or illegal.
  • Conditions such as seasonal affective disorder and postpartum depression.
  • Loneliness.
  • Certain personality traits, such as low self-esteem and being overly critical of yourself.
  • Faulty mood regulation in the brain.

Although some health professionals have said that a chemical imbalance in your brain is what causes depression, unfortunately it is not that simple. Research has shown that its causes are more complex than simply having more of one chemical or less of another chemical moving around in your brain. Nerve cell growth, nerve cell connections and how nerve circuits function all have a major impact on depressive disorders, though the scientific understanding is not yet complete.

The World Health Organization states that prevention programs are often successful at helping to prevent depression in the long term. These include positive thinking enhancement for children, support for parents of children with behaviour disorders and exercise programs for seniors.

Find out how to test your depression here.

Who Gets Depression?

Just as we don’t know exactly what causes depression, there is no way of telling who will experience depression. It can happen to anyone, any gender, any age, any social status, though women more often suffer from depression than men. Science does know that 1 in 6 adults will suffer from depression at least once in their lifetime. That means about 16 million Americans, and 300 million people worldwide will have to deal with this debilitating mental illness. Depression is the leading cause of disability globally and is a major contributor to disease worldwide.

Some people with other mental health conditions can be more at risk of depression. For example, people with anxiety disorders often experience periods of depression.

Nicotine and Depression
Though science does not yet understand the reason, smoking is more common among people who have depression or an anxiety disorder. Approximately 30% of cigarettes are smoked by people with mental health conditions in America. No matter the ultimate cause of the link between mental health conditions and smoking, smoking may not be what causes depression but is not a treatment for depression. In fact, studies have shown that quitting smoking and improving your general health along with getting help for your depression or anxiety can help you feel better.

Suicide and Depression
The more extreme cases of depression often lead patients to want to hurt themselves or commit suicide. Nearly 800,000 people die from suicide every year. If these feelings happen to you or someone you know, please seek immediate help.

In America, you can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to reach a 24 hour crisis line. You can also call 911.
Call your mental health provider.
Talk to your doctor or other health provider.
Visit the emergency room at a hospital.
Talk to a friend or family member that you trust.
Talk to a priest, rabbi, or other spiritual leader or someone else in your faith community.

How is Depression Treated?

Depression can be treated in a number of ways including therapy, lifestyle changes and medication. You and your doctor can work together to figure out what treatments will help you. Treatment can help to reduce symptoms and reduce the duration of the depression.

Fewer than half of people affected by depression receive help, usually due to a lack of access to care providers and sometimes due to a lack of proper diagnosis. The social stigma associated with depression also acts as an obstacle to treatment as many patients fear judgement or ridicule. Below are some of the most common treatment options.

Lifestyle changes
Eating right, sleeping well, exercising regularly, avoiding alcohol and other depressants, quitting smoking and spending time with friends outside of work can ease the symptoms of depression and help you feel better.

Therapy
Many people have found psychotherapy helpful for depression. Therapy may take relatively few sessions or many sessions before you begin to feel better. While therapy will mostly focus on your present life, you may also discuss aspects of your past life with your therapist. You should speak openly with your therapist so that he or she is best able to help.

Medication
Many people also find that medication is helpful for depression. Talk to your doctor about whether or not medication may help you and. If prescribed, talk about exactly about how and when to take the medication and what side effects to look out for. Make sure your doctor knows about any other medication that you may be taking, even if you think it may not be important.

Once you begin taking the medication, follow the directions for taking it carefully and don’t stop taking the medication until you and your doctor agree that you should, even if you’re feeling better. Also, if you begin to experience any side effects, tell your doctor about those immediately.

If you are pregnant, might be pregnant or are planning to get pregnant, be sure to tell your doctor before taking or continuing your medication.

Researchers have found a number of genes which have a major impact on depression. The hope for the future is that studying these genes will help to identify and understand the cases of depression, thereby improving the treatments for depression, including improved medications and therapies. That is still quite far off however and in the meantime, medications taken correctly can have a significant positive impact for depression treatment.

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