Causes of Depression

Student Counseling Center Resources

"How did this happen to me?" "It is so unlike me to feel this way!" These are common statements made by depressed people. While there is often no single answer to the question, "Why am I depressed?" there are some common causes of depression.

One major cause of depression is the stress caused by certain events in a person's life. Loss of a loved one, loss of a job, poor grades, family problems, financial difficulties, relationship problems, prolonged physical illness or other severe stresses are all potential causes of depression. Depression can also occur when a person is attempting to deal with unpleasant childhood memories. Although these factors may contribute to the onset of depression, research has not yet helped us to understand why a certain sequence of events will cause depression in one person but not in another.

Individuals with certain personality traits can also be particularly vulnerable to depression. Individuals who are self-critical and demanding are likely victims of depression. Those who tend toward perfectionism often become depressed when they fail to measure up to their extremely high standards. In addition, those who are passive and dependent in relationships are prone to depression when these relationships don't meet their needs, as they feel powerless to change or leave the relationship.

Another cause of depression involves biochemical changes. Research has demonstrated that the existence of an imbalance or shortage of certain brain chemicals (called neurotransmitters) can lead to depression. In fact, it is currently believed that such an imbalance occurs in most cases once the person has been depressed for a while. It is for this reason that anti-depressant medication is sometimes utilized to treat a mood disorder, as it seems to normalize a person's brain chemistry.

Once a person is depressed, his or her behavioral and thought patterns can maintain the depression long after the original cause has disappeared. The person who has withdrawn from human contact and has begun to think little of him or herself can remain that way indefinitely unless corrective steps are taken.

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