10 Factors That Contribute to Depression

A while back I did a lot of research on mental health (depression in particular) as it was a subject close to home.  I have decided to share what I have learnt and perhaps it will also help others.

People sometimes wait years before seeking medical help for psychiatric disorders, but help is available and an increasing amount of studies are appearing related to mental illnesses, making them easier to diagnose and treat.

Depression for the purpose of this article includes all mental illnesses which involve depression, including anxiety, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and related illnesses.  According to the World Health Organisation, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide affecting 350 million people.[1] 

Here I look at some of the triggers of mental ill-health.

1 Biological Factors

According to studies, someone with a parent with depression is two to three times more likely to suffer from depression.  This suggests that there is a genetic link to depression, and some experts have even gone as far as to say that genetics accounts for 50% of cases.[2] 

Scientists have also linked poor blood flow in the frontal lobe of the brain to the severity of depression in patients.[3] 

For years the chemical imbalance theory was accepted as an explanation for why people suffer from depression, but this theory has come under heavy scrutiny lately and many mental health professionals are claiming that this is simply not the case.[4]

2 Malnutrition

A 2016 study found that Omega-3 supplementation can help treat depression.[5]  This is likely because DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), a long chain Omega-3 fatty acid, has been linked to brain development and may be essential to the growth and functioning of the brain.[6]  A rich source of DHA is oily fish, and other good sources of Omega-3 fatty acids include hemp seed oil, flaxseed oil, and chia seeds.[7] 

Poor eating in general leads to fatigue and disorder in the body so it is recommended that anyone concerned about their mental health looks into a good diet plan that will complement their needs.  The media has caused us to look at diets as something that we apply only to weight loss and certain health issues, but it is important to note that diet is much more than that.  What we eat needs to become an important part of our lifestyle in order to stay healthy.

3 Brain Damage or Defects

Half of the people who suffer from traumatic brain injury also develop depression.[8]  Traumatic brain injury can be the result of collisions, or foreign objects piercing the skull and entering the brain.[9]  This supports the strong link between brain functioning and depression. 

Recent studies have also shown that depression can also lead to brain damage by shrinking the hippocampus, which is the area of the brain responsible for forming new memories, as well as behavioral and emotional functioning.[10]

4 Substance Abuse

Drug use and mental illness are closely related.  Sometimes people with mental health issues turn to substances like alcohol or cocaine in order to self-medicate.  The problem is that this may also lead to addiction.  People with pre-existing mental illnesses have also been found to be more susceptible to drug use. 

Certain drugs like tobacco and marijuana have also been linked to an increased likelihood of anxiety and even psychosis.[11]

5 Trauma and Stress

PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is the result of trauma suffering.  Unlike classic depression, the triggers are usually simpler to find; they could include abuse, exposure to violence, and surviving wars or conflict.[12]  If PTSD is discovered early enough, it can be treated systematically.  However, it often leads to long-term depression and anxiety.[13] 

Furthermore, too much pressure in our daily lives can lead to chronic stress, which is a factor in depression.  Stress can be linked to trauma, life events, or lifestyle.[14]

6 Social Stresses

Toxic relationships that involve abuse lead to trauma and mental illness.  If a person’s social life only consists of these type of relationships, they can be destined to repeat old patterns and find difficulty in forming healthy relationships.  Emotional abuse is sometimes difficult to recognize, and can in many ways be more harmful psychologically than physical abuse.[15]
Other social stresses that may not necessarily constitute emotional abuse could lead to disorders like social anxiety and depression.  These include a lack of meaningful relationships, not feeling like we are a part of any group or family, constantly comparing ourselves to others, purposeful isolation, and not feeling worthy enough.[16]

Feelings of inadequacy in social situations can be rooted in abusive relationships in childhood or later, in which people are talked down, or made to feel guilty or unworthy.

7 Poor Environment

People living in poverty, particularly extreme poverty, are at the greatest risk of suffering from psychiatric disorders.[17]

Unemployment is also one of the factors which influence the onset of mental illness.  This is because of the additional stresses that come with financial instability, searching for new employment, and continual rejection if one finds it difficult to find a new job. 

Studies have also found that living in urban areas increases the risk of mental ill-health.  This may be due to a combination of several factors including high congestion, pollution, and higher crime rates.[18]

8 Major Life Events

People often mistakenly think that only negative life events can lead to mental illness.  However, studies have found that all major life events, both positive and negative can lead to depression.

A 2013 study by Riskind et al. has even gone as far as concluding that positive life events may contribute to depression even more so than negative events.  This is because any major life event creates change and change can be unsettling, and therefore lead to spikes in anxiety.  So not only negative events such as divorce, losing a job, or the death of a loved one might lead to mental illness.  It can even be positive events such as getting married, receiving a promotion, or moving to a better neighborhood.[19]

9 Prescription Medication

Medical practitioners are sometimes too quick to diagnose mental illness, and normal feelings that may be the result of a difficult life event, such as grief or sadness, can be perceived as mental illness.  This was the case with Katinka Blackford Newman, a woman who was experiencing distress as a result of a divorce, who was then prescribed antidepressants by her psychiatrist.  She was in fact not depressed, but going through the normal negative emotions that one would associate with an event such as a divorce.  As a result, the antidepressants created havoc in her life for a year, creating symptoms such as psychosis, weight gain, and violent behavior.[20]

Antidepressants can include side-effects such as suicidal thoughts and anxiety.[21]  The long-term use of antidepressants has also been associated with chronic depression, which is referred to as tardive dysphoria.[22]

Other medications that include depression as a possible side-effect include benzodiazepines (used to treat anxiety and insomnia), beta-adrenergic blockers (for blood pressure and heart disease), opioids (pain), and norplant (birth control).[23]

10 Rumination

In 2013 Kinderman et al. from the University of Leeds conducted a study to test the biopsychosocial model of mental health.  They tested 32,827 participants in order to find the leading cause of mental illness.  The variables tested included biological problems, social problems, life events, and rumination.  Of the first three, life events were found to be the greatest predictor of mental-ill health.  However, rumination was found to be the biggest overall predictor of mental ill-health.[24]  Rumination can be defined as ‘dwelling on negative thoughts and self blame’.[25]  So, after a negative event has occurred, we make it worse for ourselves by thinking about it over and over and over again.

This has made mental health professionals look at treatments differently.  The premise is that if we can think ourselves into mental illness, then surely we can think ourselves out of it.  It is not as simple as it seems, but methods such as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (or CBT) aim to achieve that by teaching us to think and behave differently in reaction to life events.[26]

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