What Are the Causes of Depression?

People who have depression experience intense sadness and loss of interest in things they normally enjoy. It lasts for weeks, months or even years and affects how a person feels and thinks. It can also cause physical symptoms like headaches, stomach aches and difficulty sleeping. Depression can have a huge impact on a person’s relationships, work and social life. It can also be a risk factor for suicide.

Sadness touches all of us at different times in our lives, but it usually comes and goes — or is just a part of “the blues.” Depression, on the other hand, lasts for long periods of time and interferes with day-to-day functioning. It is a serious medical condition with many treatments available.

Getting treatment early for depression can help prevent a recurrence and reduce the severity of the symptoms. Depression often is treated with medication, therapy or a combination of both.

Most depression is caused by an imbalance of brain chemicals, but other factors can play a role. It tends to run in families, and it can be triggered by major life events such as trauma, divorce, losing a job or having a serious illness. It may also be a result of some medications, including over-the-counter drugs such as birth control pills and some antidepressants.

Scientists are trying to understand the causes of depression and develop new drugs to treat it. One theory is that certain neurotransmitters — chemical messengers between nerve cells — are affected by depression. These neurotransmitters can influence mood by changing how information is transmitted within and between nerve circuits.

Another possibility is that depression results from a misregulation of hormones. Research has shown that changes in the body’s hormone levels can be linked to depression. This can occur during pregnancy and in the weeks and months after delivery (postpartum depression), from thyroid problems or as a side effect of some medications.

Other possible causes of depression include alterations in the basal ganglia, a group of structures deep in the brain that are involved in movement and some aspects of memory and thinking. Some studies suggest that these structures shrink in people with depression.

If you have depression, try to get enough sleep and eat well. Exercise can help, too. Spending time with friends and family can also lift your spirits. Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs, which can worsen depression.

Depression can be difficult to diagnose and treat, but it is very common. If you or someone you know has a depressive disorder, it’s important to see a doctor for an evaluation. If the symptoms are severe, call 911 or your local emergency number or text TALK to 741741 for a crisis counselor.

If you have a friend or family member who has thoughts of suicide, do what you can to help them. Offer support, listen without judgment and remove weapons, medications or other things that could be used for self-harm. You can find help and resources on the 988 Suicide and Crisis Line website or by calling the local hotline.