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  • Writer's pictureMelanie Albin PsyS. LMFT

The 7 Causes of Depression

Updated: May 27, 2023

Depression may result from physical, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual reasons. Symptoms of depression include tearfulness, uncontrollable crying, increased difficulty in falling or staying asleep, increased or decreased appetite, diminished concentration, waning energy, and loss of interest in hobbies or activities with friends. Whenever you are depressed, evaluate the cause or causes of your depression and follow with a plan that will eliminate it. Although it is not possible to live life without feeling sad from time to time, you do not have to get stuck in it. #depression #causesofdepression

Physical Causes of Depression

1. Have your primary care physician rule out physical causes by conducting a thorough physical exam that would include thyroid dysfunction and blood sugar. The thyroid gland controls your hormones that then control your moods. They can be treated accordingly.

2. The 2nd physical cause, a hormonal or chemical imbalance cannot be diagnosed with a test. A psychiatrist should evaluate for a hormonal imbalance especially if the family history is positive for depression. Three neurotransmitters are responsible for depression, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Depression results if the production of one or more of these neurotransmitters is low or the reuptake is not adequate (the recognition and ability to use it). Because the imbalance cannot be precisely defined, the type and dosage of medication have to be tried to determine its effectiveness. Some of the medication increases the production of one or more of the neurotransmitters and some affect the reuptake. It takes about 4 weeks to adequately build up in your system to determine its effectiveness. If it's a little help it may need a dosage increase and if it's not helpful, another medication that affects a different neurotransmitter can be tried. It takes good communication with your psychiatrist to ultimately determine the correct medication or combination of medications and the correct dosage. There are a lot of good medications with fewer side effects than in previous years and they are making improvements all the time. Don't get discouraged if you and your doctor don't hit on the correct medication on the 1st try.

3. Depression can also be the result of neglecting physical needs. Good nutrition and restful sleep are necessary to maintain physical stamina to rejuvenate, heal and repair the body. Evaluate your diet which is your source of energy especially for high-energy foods, B vitamins, iron, potassium, and other minerals. The lack of good sources of vitamins, iron, and minerals can cause depletion and lack of energy. Nutrition’s function is like gas is to a car. The longest-lasting energy in foods is nuts which last about four hours. Fruits and vegetables provide short-term energy while complex carbohydrates last longer. Ideally, you should eat something at least every four hours to maintain optimal energy.

Alcohol and marijuana are depressants and should be avoided. Alcohol stays in your system and affects your mood for about 48 hours. Marijuana stays in your system and depresses your mood for about 30 days.

4. Depression can result from your stress level exceeding your coping skills. Your body attempts to help you cope with stress by triggering adrenaline. Stress results from any change positive or negative which occurred within the past year. Adrenaline is triggered whenever you are in a stressful situation or when you are just thinking about something stressful. Adrenaline prepares your body to fight or flee a stressful situation. Adrenaline speeds up your breathing and increases your heart rate and shuts off your digestive system and shuts off your immune system temporarily so it can increase your energy to fight or flee. Initially, you experience a burst of energy followed by feeling irritable. Because your adrenaline is only meant to run temporarily and in emergencies, it shuts off leaving you feeling depleted and exhausted. Coping skills rebalance and turn off your stress cycle. For details about using coping skills please see the blog dedicated to them.

Emotional Cause of Depression

A current loss or trauma or unprocessed emotions from past trauma or loss result in depression. Losses may arise through death or divorce, from a job ending, or developing or enduring health problems. Feelings arising from a loss or trauma are among the most painful experiences that we encounter. They are undoubtedly the most difficult to recover from. The feelings of sadness, anger, and guilt are always associated with any loss or trauma. Recovery from a loss proceeds through four stages,

  1. denial,

  2. the feeling stage (sadness, anger, and guilt),

  3. recalling positive memories

  4. acceptance and moving on with your life.

Processing through the stages of grief does not go sequentially, rather you pop in and out of the denial, feelings, and memory stages at least until you pass 6 months when the denial stage ends.

The denial stage gives you time to incorporate a loss or a trauma before you sail headlong into the feeling stage where you experience intense sadness anger and guilt.

The third stage Is the memory stage. The memory stage makes the most sense when the loss is death because the memories are positive memories which are confusing if the loss is divorce. If it's a trauma, the memories are intrusive flashbacks.

Ideally, these painful feelings and memories can be acknowledged, processed, and verbalized which over time will result in a decrease in frequency and a lessening in intensity. There are three ways to process feelings and memories,

  1. verbalize them to someone you trust;

  2. simply acknowledge and express them perhaps through crying journaling or

  3. express them creatively through art, music, dance, or poetry.

Stuffing or swallowing feelings results in stomach and digestive problems, and lack of appetite, in addition to depression. Think of your stomach as a balloon, every time you think about it or talk about your feelings and memories, you are letting air out of the balloon. It takes anywhere from 2-4 years to process a loss. If it is the loss of a spouse, for every five years married, it can take one year to process your feelings and memories. To manage the effects of the feelings and memories of grief, trauma, or loss, you want to alternatively increase your coping skills especially after you have processed feelings or memories. See the coping skills blog for details.

Old trauma or losses will resurface when you are faced with a new loss. They are all categorized in our brain in the same place so they all come tumbling out. Go ahead and process them too. Unprocessed losses turn into a depression that is just under the surface.

Cognitive or Mental Cause of Depression

Depression can be the result of learned, negative thinking. The "one-eyed" view is a negative view of ourselves, our day, our future, and of our world which leads to depression and low self-esteem. Generally, it is learned when we are growing up in our families. Because it is learned, it can be changed. The negative view is a narrow view that leaves out the positive.

Changing your negative view to include the positive one

Take a moment several times a day to notice something to be grateful for in your life and the world. Use the driving time, waiting in line at the grocery, any time when you can catch a moment, and time at the end of the day. Do it out loud with your children in the car and have them do it, do it at the dinner table, and always do it at the end of the day and before you go to sleep. You will incorporate this practice into your daily routine always from now on. You will become more adept at noticing things throughout your day as your mind makes this a new habit.

You will become more adept at noticing things throughout your day as your mind makes this a new habit. As you begin to balance out your view with the positive, it changes your perspective and offers hope. The more you focus on feeling grateful, the more things happen to be grateful for. Thinking about it attracts more things to be grateful for in your life. Universal laws exist that affect us every day. The Law of Attraction "We attract to our lives, what we focus on". (See the Blog on Feeling Grateful.) (For how to change self-esteem see the blog on Understanding self-esteem and Changing Depression and Self-Esteem).

Spiritual Cause of Depression

Depression can be a symptom that you need to make a change in your life. The spiritual cause of depression is being an off track on your journey toward your purpose. It results from being stuck in a job, a relationship, or a situation that does not allow growth toward your spiritual purpose. Your first spiritual purpose is to develop in a chosen area of growth such as developing patience or tolerance. Secondly, your purpose is to use your particular gifts, strengths, or talents to make the world a better place. Depression can be the catalyst to recognize the need for change when you have diverted from this path. Depression will increase if you are about to overlook an opportunity. Anger and frustration are also strong indicators that change may be indicated. Evaluate life areas to determine what changes are needed. The change may be as simple as asserting yourself in a relationship or as difficult as ending one.

In summary, depression can be the result of physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual causes or a combination of any of these. Whenever you recognize any symptoms of depression evaluate the cause or causes. This will then direct you to a plan to eliminate it.

See your primary care physician to rule out a physical problem. If you have a family history of a hormonal or chemical imbalance see a psychiatrist for an evaluation. Eat nutritionally, especially high-energy foods and get adequate vitamins and minerals sleep, exercise, and relaxation. Eliminate alcohol, marijuana, or any other mood-altering drugs. Match your coping skills with your stress level. Process both recent and past losses or trauma. Balance your processing of losses with coping skills. Change your learned negative perception of yourself, others, and the world to a positive one. Evaluate whether something in your life needs to be changed.


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