DepressionDepression Causes

Let's Talk About the Causes of Depression

Depression is vexing, in no short part because doctors are themselves confused about the exact causes. But science hasn't let us down completely! Learn what's been proven to be a factor and what might be—understanding the triggers will help you get the best treatment.

    Our Pro PanelDepression Causes

    We asked some of the nation's top depression experts to bring you the most up-to-date information possible.

    Charles B. Nemeroff, M.D., Ph.D.

    Charles B. Nemeroff, M.D., Ph.D.Chief Medical Officer of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Professor and Chair of Psychiatry at Mulva Clinic for the Neurosciences

    Dell Medical School, The University of Texas
    Austin, TX
    Jennifer L. Payne, M.D.

    Jennifer L. Payne, M.D.Director of the Women's Mood Disorders Center and Associate Professor of Psychiatry

    Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
    Baltimore, MD
    Carol A. Bernstein, M.D.

    Carol A. Bernstein, M.D.Psychiatrist, Vice Chair for Faculty Development and Well-Being in the Departments of Psychiatry and Obstetrics and Gynecology

    Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine
    The Bronx, NY

    Frequently Asked QuestionsDepression Causes

    If depression runs in my family, does that mean I’ll pass it on to my child?

    Look, we won’t lie to you—scientists have found that a child’s risk of developing clinical depression later in life is higher if depression runs in their family. But just because there’s a link doesn’t mean it’s written in stone. The research says that genes are responsible for less than half of depression risk, and the rest is external triggers. There’s no one gene for depression. In fact, there’s not even a clear pattern of inheritance! So let’s concentrate on this: There’s no reason to think your child will experience depression, but if they do, you’ve got the tools to help them, make recovery easier to find, and erase any shame they may feel.

    Could my depression medications be making me more depressed?

    In a crappy catch-22, yes, it’s possible. Rx pills that change the chemistry in your brain can lead to depression, so it does make sense that medications aimed to help with depression fall into this category, as ironic and mind-boggling as it may seem. It’s important to report any negative side effects to your psychiatrist so that if one drug isn’t working, you can try another—and, remember, there are so many different antidepressants available. While you may go through a frustrating period of trial-and-error to figure out which one or which mix is best for you, finding the right option will be worth it.

    Can depression be contagious?

    Nah. Look, everyone knows a Debbie Downer whose buzzkill energy can destroy a room’s vibe. They may insist they’re just keeping it real, but all that pessimism can rub off after a while. A recent study even backs it up—researchers found that moods can actually spread through social networks like an emotional flu. That means if you hang out with happy people who laugh a lot, you might find yourself giggling after a while. Or if you spend time with annoyed, frustrated people, you’ll likely feel more annoyed and frustrated afterward. However, the study did not find any evidence that these fleeting bad moods blossom into full-blown depression, or that people can pass on depression this way. Long story short, it’s true that bad moods can spread for a short time, but if you’re around someone who’s depressed a lot, you won’t “catch” it.

    Does social media cause teen depression?

    The time teens spend on social media has skyrocketed by 62.5% since 2012, according to a recent eight-year study, and there’s no sign of it slowing. (FYI, they’re at about 2.6 hours per day.) Rates of teen depression are up, so it’s tempting to blame social media, but—despite some alarming headlines—the facts don’t entirely match up. The same study found the amount of time spent on social doesn’t correlate with the risk of depression. That said, other studies have shown links to depression and social media, but it’s hard to form a causal relationship. Since social media can be used a bunch of different ways—some of which are very positive, like connecting with friends and seeking out information—that makes a lot of sense. So, while it’s true that in-person socializing does boost mental health, that doesn’t necessarily mean the opposite is true for online socializing.

    Meirav Devash

    Meirav Devash


    Meirav Devash is a writer, editor, and beauty, health, and wellness expert, reporting on topics from mental health to goth fitness and cannabis law.