There’s no single cause of depression. Indeed some people can feel low for no obvious reason.
Our mental health is more complex than our physical health and it’s not always as obvious what might be wrong. Life experiences can affect how we’re feeling and this can then have an impact on our mental health.
Some people may develop depression when experiencing a big life event or one, or, a series of stressful experiences which can include:
- life changes or emotional upsets such as leaving work, retirement, getting married or going to University
- bereavement: it’s very normal to feel upset and distressed when someone close to you dies. People need to come to terms with their loss in their own time. If feelings continue, however, and start to get worse a depression may have developed.
- having a baby: many women can feel low in the first week or so after childbirth (and sometimes during pregnancy). Unfortunately, for some women these symptoms get worse and can continue for weeks and even months known as perinatal or postnatal depression.
- losing your job, redundancy or long-term unemployment
- difficulties in personal relationships such as family arguments or divorce
- feeling under constant pressure or threat (either at home or at work)
- caring for someone
- sickness or other health issues
- debt or housing issues, poor living condition or struggling to pay bills
- crime, abuse, harassment or bullying
- feeling isolated or unsupported
There are also some factors that can make it more likely that someone might experience depression – particularly at a time when life starts to get more stressful.
These can include:
- Family history: people who have a close family member who has experienced depression have a higher risk of developing depression themselves. We are still trying to understand the exact reason for this risk. While there is evidence for a genetic cause of depression, if parents are depressed this can have an impact on their children.
- Early experiences: children who experience abuse or neglect, a lot of change and disruption, or the loss of a parent/guardian can be more likely to develop low moods and depression later in life.
- Personality type: people who have low self-esteem, are very self-critical, worry too much or question themselves may be more likely to experience depression.
- Poor diet and lack of sleep and exercise: feeling constantly tired, not exercising regularly and eating an unhealthy diet high in bad fats, refined sugars and junk food can have a big effect on how someone feels and on their general wellbeing.
- Alcohol or drug problems: drinking too much alcohol or taking illegal drugs can affect the brain and increase the risk of depression. Dependency can also create different life problems which can also, in turn, cause low moods and depression.
While depression is not an inevitable part of getting older it’s common for older people, like others, to feel low at times and experience depression or anxiety.
Depression can also be linked to other health problems:
- Some people may experience depression as part of another mental health problem such as eating disorders, bipolar disorder, a ‘personality disorder’ or Schizophrenia.
- Some physical health conditions like thyroid problems can have symptoms which are like those of depression.
- People with dementia may experience depression at times during their illness – indeed depression and dementia have some similar symptoms which can make them difficult to tell apart.