Understanding Causes of Depression

attractive young man at office looking depressed - causes of depression

attractive young man at office looking depressed - causes of depression

Everyone has periods of sadness or feeling blue. But not all people receive a diagnosis of depression. Understanding the causes of depression and the viable treatment options helps reduce the stigma of the disorder and enables individuals to live full, rich lives.

What Is Depression?

Before we look at any causes of depression, let’s first examine the definition of depression. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), “depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think, and how you act.” Ancient Greeks and Romans identified the condition as “melancholia” or melancholy, “a feeling of pensive sadness, typically with no obvious cause.”

Throughout history, scholars, physicians, and religious leaders examined the causes of melancholy, constantly moving forward and backward on the philosophy of mental health. Some flawed theories labeled people with depression and other mental illnesses as witches or possessed by demons, or doomed to an unchangeable condition that could only be resolved by removing them from society completely.

And we’re all familiar with some of the more invasive applications that might have resembled a cure at the time but contributed to establishing considerable fear regarding mental health treatment. Fortunately, science has given us the tools to move out of the dark ages to not only dispel myths and stigmas surrounding mental health disorders—especially for people of color—but also to provide progressive, measurable wellness.

Types of Depression

It’s a common aspect of the human experience to feel sadness over loss or feel down for a few days about a disappointing situation. These natural feelings fade eventually. But depression is a mood disorder.

Each type of depression presents unique symptoms—and they often vary between adults and teens, women, and men. To receive a diagnosis of depression, an individual must experience symptoms for at least two weeks, every day. These symptoms interfere with all areas of life.

Primary forms of the disease include:

  • Atypical
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder
  • Major depression
  • Persistent depressive disorder
  • Post-partum
  • Seasonal affective disorder or SAD
  • Psychotic

The American Academy of Family Physicians states that one out of every 12 adults in the U.S. has depression, and that “the prevalence of depression among women was almost double that seen in men.” The Department of Health and Human Services indicates that one in eight adolescents in the country also suffer from depression.

What causes these various depression disorders? Let’s take a closer look.

Causes of Depression

The APA identifies four primary risk factors for depression and the rationale:


“Differences in certain chemicals in the brain may contribute to symptoms of depression.”

These include dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Harvard Health also points to how some regions of the brain differ for people with depression. “Research shows that the hippocampus is smaller in some depressed people.” Activity in the amygdala, which controls emotions, is also “higher when a person is sad or clinically depressed. This increased activity continues even after recovery from depression.” Fluctuating hormones, such as what many women experience after childbirth, are another biochemical cause of depression.

Environmental factors

“Continuous exposure to violence, neglect, abuse or poverty may make some people more vulnerable to depression.”

Traumatic experiences overwhelm the brain’s natural defenses to stress. Harrowing situations such as complex trauma, complicated grief and loss, or war and other violent circumstances contribute greatly to depression development.


“Depression can run in families. For example, if one identical twin has depression, the other has a 70 percent chance of having the illness sometime in life.”

Stanford Medicine states that “common disorders like depression, diabetes, and high blood pressure are influenced by genes.” It’s not that one gene is directly associated with depression. Instead, “each person inherits a unique combination of genes from their mother and father, and certain combinations can predispose to a particular illness.”


“People with low self-esteem, who are easily overwhelmed by stress, or who are generally pessimistic appear to be more likely to experience depression.”

Here’s where a combination of the above factors might contribute to the likelihood of depression. Individuals with a higher number of adverse childhood experiences, for example, might be more prone to depression without proper therapy. Someone dealing with a chronic illness, substance use disorder, or an eating disorder might have a co-occurring depressive disorder.

Progressive Depression Treatment at Cottonwood Tucson

In the 1950s, certain medication breakthroughs for the treatment of depression changed how most people could manage this condition. While medication is one form of effective care, it’s not the only method.

At Cottonwood Tucson, our board certified professionals create a wellness team to address not only depression, but its root cause. For example, it’s not enough to tell someone who experienced a violent incident to simply take a pill and everything will be better. Scientific advances allow our team to get to the heart of a person’s depressive disorder and provide a detailed, individualized treatment plan in pursuit of whole-person health.

Using innovative therapies and unified consultation, the clinicians at Cottonwood Tucson might prescribe the following:

  • Brainspotting
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • EMDR
  • Holistic modalities such as yoga, meditation, breathing techniques, and passive muscle relaxation
  • Mind-body therapies such as Chi Nei Tsang and HeartMath
  • Mindfulness therapy
  • Somatic experiencing
  • Trauma-focused equine therapy

These and other depression treatment methods are often combined with revised nutritional and exercise therapies.

Focused inpatient therapy for depression, even for a period of 30 days, could change your life forever. Take our self-assessment depression quiz, then talk with a member of our admissions team to learn how Cottonwood Tucson can help you.

If you or someone you love is in need of immediate support because of the potential for self-harm, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. This help is free and confidential.

Looking for depression treatment near Tucson? For more information about Cottonwood Tucson, call (888) 727-0441. We are ready to help you or your loved one find lasting recovery.

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