Understanding What Causes Depression
For a long list of physical health illnesses, there are simple tests to prove what the condition is without any doubt. Are you wondering about strep throat? Swab the throat and test it. Are you worried about diabetes? Test the blood sugar. Certainly, not every medical health condition is this simple, but it occurs frequently, especially when compared to mental health conditions.
With mental health conditions, there is no blood test to prove or disprove the presence of any diagnosis. A mental health professional cannot inspect the eyes and ears, check the reflexes, and listen with a stethoscope to identify a mental health disorder.
Instead, there is a focus on the assessment and evaluation of depression symptoms over time to arrive at a diagnostic conclusion.
Another difference between mental health and physical health is the ability to accurately state the cause of a condition. Do you have the chickenpox? You have a viral infection. Do you have bronchitis? You have an infection that led to the inflammation of your bronchial tubes.
Rarely in the world of mental health do diagnoses present in such a cause and effect way (with the exception being situational PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)). What about depression, though?
Despite its status as one of the most common mental health conditions, depression and its causes are not clear. Other explanations of the causes of depression may be overly simple.
Someone saying their depression is due to a “chemical imbalance” might be true, but leaves out what caused the chemical imbalance initially. Also, there is good evidence to support the idea that chemical changes in the brain are triggered by a range of influences including diet, sleep and exercise levels, so maybe “chemical imbalance” is limited.
The Role of Predisposition
Rather than thinking about depression in terms of cause and effect, think about the disorder in terms of a multidimensional interaction between factors pushing you towards the condition and factors that pull you away from it.
At the center of it all is you and your predisposition. Your predisposition is your vulnerability to depression from birth. It is influenced by hereditary factors, biology, and genetics.
For example, if there is a strong family history of depression or other mental health conditions, your genetic predisposition will be stronger. If no one in your family has had depression previously, your predisposition will be weaker.
When looking through the family tree, it is important to look beyond depression diagnosis and treatment. The acceptance of mental health conditions is a relatively recent phenomenon as previous generations would ignore or cover up their symptoms.
It is possible that the history of alcoholism in your family is related to people self-medicating their depression. Because of this, you must investigate the symptoms throughout the years in a new way to gain information on your predisposition.
It is impossible to state how strong the influence of your genetic predisposition is on your depression. It will be different for each person — even siblings in the same family.
The Role of Risk Factors
The next part of the equation is risk factors. These are the features that push you towards depression.
Generally, these are negative and unwanted characteristics that you possess or negative and unwanted events you have experienced. These can begin even before you are born.
There are many risk factors and their weight varies depending on the frequency and intensity of their presentation.
Next page: common risk factors for depression.