Clinical depression risk factors include family history, stress, substance abuse, and even giving birth. Risk factors for depression are not the same as causes of depression. While two people may experience the same risk factor, one may experience a depressive episode while the other copes without becoming depressed. If the risk factor were a cause, both individuals would develop depression.
Risk Factor or Depression Complication?
It’s sometimes difficult to determine if a specific condition is a predisposing risk factor for depression or a complication of depression. For instance substance abuse is a known risk factor for depression. In some cases however, substance abuse develops in an attempt to self-medicate for depressive symptoms. Often such “chicken or the egg” questions are unimportant, as both conditions require treatment no matter which came first. In some cases, however, treatment can be improved by understanding if a condition triggered depression or was itself triggered by the mental illness.
Family and Personal Depression History
The existence of a blood relative with a history of depression is a significant risk factor for depressive illness. Some experts argue that family history is actually a genetic cause of depression. While family history certainly influences a person’s depression risk, genetics probably aren’t the sole cause of depression. Although two siblings may share a depressed parent, it’s possible for only one sibling to get depressed.
Having a relative who committed suicide is another risk factor for depression. Depression statistics show that untreated depression is the most common cause for suicide.
A personal history of depressive episodes is a clear risk for future depression. An individual with a personal history of depression has a proven disposition for the mental illness, making the chance of another bout of depression more likely.
Life, Stress and Depression
Life events can be extremely disruptive on mental health. Family deaths, personal illness, divorce, unemployment and low socioeconomic status all increase the risk of depression. People suffering from serious health conditions such as substance abuse, cancer or diabetes often develop comorbid depression.
Read More: What Can Cause Your Bleeding Gums.
A person’s stress management skills—or lack thereof—affects his personal risk of depression. A job loss, for instance, is both stressful and upsetting. People with healthy stress management skills find ways to cope and move on. They may turn unemployment into an opportunity to return to school or seek a better job. In contrast, difficulty adapting to and accepting the job loss may trigger depression in others.
Personality also affects an individual’s risk of depression. Depression negatively affects a person’s self-esteem, enjoyment of life and attitude. People who are naturally pessimistic, have existing self-esteem problems or who are extremely self-critical tend to have a higher risk of depression than others.
Women and Depression
A woman’s risk of depression is twice that of a man’s. Explanations for this discrepancy vary. Some theories point to changes in a woman’s hormone levels over the course of her life, which tend to be more extreme than male hormonal fluctuations. Women who have recently given birth run the risk of postpartum depression, which has been linked to hormonal changes occurring as the female body regains its pre-pregnancy hormonal equilibrium.
Another possible scenario is that men are more prone to depression than is commonly thought. Social and cultural expectations may prevent men from seeking help for “emotional” problems, which is sometimes seen as a weakness in men. It’s generally more acceptable for women to seek mental health assistance (this discrepancy doesn’t say anything very positive about society’s views of either men or women, but it is a factor in some cases of depression).
It’s important to remember that the presence of risk factors does not guarantee a depressive episode. An increased risk only indicates that the possibility of depression is higher for an individual than for the general population, not that a depressive episode will occur. Risk factors are best seen as warning signals for a possible problem, alerting people to the possibility of future depression.