Depression can manifest in many forms. Whether it is waking up feeling hopeless about the following day, feeling tired, lonely or simply unmotivated in general, depressive symptoms can develop due to a multitude of reasons. Ranging from psychological reasons to biological or social factors, the onset of depression can be subtle, making it difficult to notice until it becomes severe enough to become debilitating in some way. In order to avoid letting depressive symptoms advance into a full blown disorder, it is imperative to first gain a familiarity with the most common reasons people are depressed.
- Brain chemicals – Due to genetics, many people have brains that are more sensitive to the effects of stress. Some people’s neurochemistry produces generally low levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine, brain chemicals that are associated with sleep and feelings of wellbeing. The way we process galanin has also been found in recent studies to affect the way we handle stress, making people less emotionally resilient.
- The weather – Some studies have shown that people are more susceptible to negative moods in cloudy weather, not necessarily because we tend to find the aesthetic of it depressing, but because it discourages outdoor activities (which have been associated with drops in mood.). People are also generally more cognitively flexible and able to think creatively about solving problems in the spring versus the winter. However, the emotions of people with seasonal affective disorder actually are tied to seasons, suffering from changes in sleep, motivation and full blown depression during the winter with exposure to sunlight alleviating their symptoms (due most likely to the vitamin D it allows us to process).
- Vitamin D – The majority of people in the US have insufficient levels of vitamin D, due to a combination of inadequate sun exposure and malnutrition. People with more melanin in their skin are more vulnerable to vitamin D deficiency due to a decreased ability to process it from sunlight. A large Dutch study of over 1,200 found that people’s (aged 65 and older) levels of vitamin D are 14 percent lower in people with minor depression or major depressive disorder compared to the control group.
- Hormones – Produced by the endocrine glands, hormones influence growth and development, mood, sexual function and metabolism. People with thyroid issues have also been linked to depression, as well as during pre-menstrual cycles and post-menopause. People who are more susceptible to the influence of hormones on mood have also been shown to be likelier to be responsive to medications such as antidepressants.
- Expectations – Our moods are a product of the way we perceive the events in our lives and the meanings that we assign to them. Expecting special or even fair treatment can set us up for disappointment and depression.
- Childhood trauma – Stressful events drain us physically and mentally, making us more vulnerable to depression and physical illness. Childhood trauma such as abuse, poverty, or loss of a parent can cause our minds to develop in a more inflexible manner, setting the stage for mental disorders.
- Stresses piling up – Stress triggers our fight-or-flight response, releasing a slew of stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine. The stress response leaves people more vulnerable to the effects of anxiety or depression as well as the development of other mood disorders such as PTSD.
- Negative rumination – Compulsive behavior leaves one especially vulnerable to negative rumination, subjecting oneself to depressing thoughts repeatedly throughout the day for months or even years. In time, this can lead to a loss of perspective and motivation (as well as with excessive positive rumination), things that can lead to depression in themselves. Doing something else that is pleasant or neutral can sometimes remedy compulsive ruminating.
- Your inner critic – Being hypercritical is another effective means of inadvertently setting the stage for depression, often creating a cycle of negative rumination. The inner critic is negative in general; being aware of this, and trying to find a balanced, objective perspective is vital to breaking the cycle of negativity.
- Loneliness – We are wired to be social people; part of this is to naturally feel depressed when excluded from social events. Feeling of rejection or isolation commonly lead to depressive symptoms, usually only being alleviated in time or with the substitution of other people.
With factors such as malnutrition from fast food as well as the abundance of processed foods and sugars in them taken into consideration, it is surprising that depression only affects 40 million people in the U.S.