Depression: 12 Risk Factors You Should Know About

View as:|
1 of 13

Could you be at risk of becoming depressed? Clinical depression typically occurs in teens and young adults, but it can strike at any age. And while we don’t know exactly what causes depression, medical professionals have identified certain factors that increase the risk. Here are the key ones to be aware of.

Being a woman

Women are two times more likely than men to be depressed.  There are several sociocultural and hormonal factors that contribute to the higher depression rates among women.  Primary triggers include work stress, family responsibilities, childcare, poverty, sexual abuse, puberty, childbirth hormones, and menopause.  Women are also at an increased risk for anxiety and eating disorders, which often accompany depression

Trauma experienced as a child

Early exposure to stress or traumatic experiences such as abuse or neglect can trigger depression in childhood and result in a life-long struggle with depression.  And while early trauma increases the risk for depression, it isn’t the only cause; many people struggling with depression have never had a traumatic experience.

Struggling with substance abuse

There is a very close relationship between depression and substance abuse.  Substance abuse can cause depression and depression can cause substance abuse.  Some common examples include alcohol abuse, which slows down brain functioning and diminishes cognitive abilities, and cocaine use, which temporarily elevates mood, resulting later in a depressive crash.

Taking certain medications

Commonly used prescriptions such as certain sleep aids, high blood pressure medications, acne medications, steroids, and weight loss drugs can increase your risk of depression.  Make sure to always ask about potential psychological side effects before starting any new medication.

Being in a creative career

More research is emerging linking those with a creative profession and adolescents who choose to be in the arts to an increased risk for depression.  This primarily includes writers, actors, and designers.  Researchers aren’t entirely sure why this is, but brain processing anomalies and lifestyle factors may be contributors.

Having few friends or personal relationships

Loneliness is a major risk factor for depression, since close relationships provide a sort of psychological safety net that helps us weather daily stressors.  Without a support group, it’s easier to wallow in negativity and self-deprecation.

Having a relative with depression

Having a family history of a condition increases your personal risk.  For years studies of depression in families have indicated a genetic link, and new research has identified and replicated a DNA region that is responsible for depression. Eventually, these advances will help treat and prevent depression.

Having a serious illness

Illnesses such as chronic pain conditions, insomnia, stroke or other neurological conditions, Alzheimer’s, and heart disease increase the risk for depression.  An estimated one-third of individuals with a serious medical condition experience depression.  This is because of a combination of factors including medications and the added stress of living with a chronic and life-altering condition.

Having certain personality traits

Pessimism, excessive self-criticism, and low self-esteem are all risky personality traits for depression.  Such traits are associated with depressive personality disorder according the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5.   Depressive personality disorder is believed to be highly connected to other depressive disorders including dysthymic disorder, a form of chronic depression, and manic-depressive episodes.

Having recently given birth

Postpartum depression is a moderate to severe form of depression in woman who have recently given birth.  While the precise cause is unknown, the hormonal changes of pregnancy combined with the changes in work, relationships, sleep, and new parental stresses are likely contributors.

Cigarette use

There is a significant relationship between smoking and depression.  Those who are prone to depression have a 25% chance of becoming depressed once they stop smoking, and the risk persists for at least 6 months.   Additionally, depressed smokers are even less likely to stop smoking; about 6% remain smoke-free after a year.  The antidepressant bupropion (Wellbutrin) is approved to assist with kicking the smoking habit.

Living in an urban area

Researchers estimate that people in cities have a 39 percent higher risk of mood problems, such as depression and bipolar disorder, and a 21 percent greater risk of anxiety disorders such as panic attacks, phobias, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.