Like all mental illnesses, there is no one single cause of Depression, instead, there are several ‘risk factors’ which increase the chances of one developing Depression. And, again, like all mental illnesses, these risk factors are highlighted in the five categories which are: social, psychological, biological, intrinsic, and extrinsic.
Social risk factors:
Within the ‘social’ category of risk factors is one’s socio-economic status. Being of a low socio-economic status can lead to people being discriminated against, facing educational disadvantages, and, in extreme cases, experiencing poverty. It can also prove to be a barrier for accessing mental health treatment. For example, if NHS funded services are full, or if waiting times are extremely long, people of a low socio-economic status will find themselves unable to afford to pay for private treatment, thus resulting in their condition worsening as a result.
Social isolation, something which can cause feelings of loneliness to arise can also increase the risk of one developing depression, as can the breakdown of relationships increase the risk of depression, both of which are further examples of social risk factors.
Psychological risk factors:
The next category of risk factors, ‘Psychological’, can be seen in people who have been subjected to trauma as a child. They might have ‘flashbacks’ to the traumatic experiences they had when they were younger, with this potentially leading to them being diagnosed with depression.
Losing a loved one can also pose a psychological risk for eating disorder sufferers, as it can cause them to experience feelings of immense grief, something which, if they’re left without support, can worsen and result in them becoming emotionally unstable and, subsequently suffering from depression as a result.
Biological risk factors:
‘Biological’ risk factors form the next category, and these consist of certain things that we are born with that increase our risk of developing depression. Genetics, for example, are thought to contribute to approximately 40% of cases of depression.
Other things that we are born with, e.g., our gender, and the chemicals in our brain, also make up this category. In terms of the former, gender, women are twice as likely as men to experience depression. This is perhaps due to hormone fluctuations (which are exclusive to women) contributing to the development of several ‘subsects’ of depression (e.g., postnatal depression, PMDD, etc.)
In terms of the latter, brain chemistry, individuals who have an imbalance of the mood regulating neurotransmitters- Dopamine, Serotonin and/or norepinephrine- are also at an increased risk of being diagnosed with clinical depression.
Intrinsic risk factors:
‘Intrinsic’ risk factors are the next category, and a major factor here is the presence of other illnesses. Why is this a risk factor? Because Depression can develop as a ‘symptom’ of other illnesses, whether that be mental or physical, due to the interconnectedness of our mental and physical health. If someone is recovering from an operation, for example, they might experience Depression if they are unable to do the things they previously enjoyed. Furthermore, if someone is struggling with substance abuse, they might also find themselves struggling with Depression too, as is highlighted in research suggesting how nearly 30% of drug users/heavy alcohol drinkers also have depression.
Another intrinsic risk factor can be seen in one’s personality. There are certain personality traits that increase the risk of someone becoming depressed, with these traits including tendencies such as: overthinking and over worrying, being overly pessimistic, having a negative outlook on life, being highly self-critical, and suffering from low self-esteem (to name just a few.)
Extrinsic risk factors:
The final category of risk factors is ‘Extrinsic.’ This includes anything that happens which is, ultimately, out of an individuals’ control.
One example of an extrinsic risk factor is related to the time of year/season. Known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (another ‘subsect’ of Depression), the winter months can sometimes cause people to experience Depression that they otherwise wouldn’t have felt at any other time of the year.
Family history is another extrinsic risk factor, with people who have a family history of depression being at a much greater risk of developing the illness themselves, whether that be due to ‘nature’ (i.e.., genetics running in the family contributing to this increased risk), or due to ‘nurture’ (i.e., being brought up in a household with a strong presence of sadness contributing to the increased risk.)
A final example of an extrinsic risk factor is unemployment. Unemployment can cause people to experience feelings of worthlessness which can, in turn, lower their self-esteem and lead to them becoming Depressed as a direct result.