While we all feel sad, moody or low from time to time, some people experience these feelings intensely, for long periods of time (weeks, months or even years) and sometimes without any apparent reason. Depression is more than just a low mood – it’s a serious condition that affects your physical and mental health.
While we don’t know exactly what causes depression, a number of things are often linked to its development. Depression usually results from a combination of recent events and other longer-term or personal factors, rather than one immediate issue or event.
Continuing difficulties – long-term unemployment, living in an abusive or uncaring relationship, long-term isolation or loneliness, prolonged work stress are more likely to cause depression than recent life stresses. However, recent events (such as losing your job) or a combination of events can ‘trigger’ depression if you’re already at risk because of previous bad experiences or personal factors.
- Family history– Depression can run in families and some people will be at an increased genetic risk. However, having a parent or close relative with depression doesn’t mean you’ll automatically have the same experience. Life circumstances and other personal factors are still likely to have an important influence.
- Personality– Some people may be more at risk of depression because of their personality, particularly if they have a tendency to worry a lot, have low self-esteem, are perfectionists, are sensitive to personal criticism, or are self-critical and negative.
- Serious medical illness – The stress and worry of coping with a serious illness can lead to depression, especially if you’re dealing with long-term management and/or chronic pain.
- Drug and Alcohol use – Drug and alcohol use can both lead to and result from depression. Many people with depression also have drug and alcohol problems.
Changes in the brain
Although there’s been a lot of research in this complex area, there’s still much we don’t know. Depression is not simply the result of a ‘chemical imbalance’, for example because you have too much or not enough of a particular brain chemical. It’s complicated, and there are multiple causes of major depression. Factors such as genetic vulnerability, severe life stressors, substances you may take (some medications, drugs and alcohol) and medical conditions can affect the way your brain regulates your moods.
Depression is a mood disorder characterised by persistently low mood and a feeling of sadness and loss of interest. It is a persistent, not a passing one, lasting on average 6 to 8 months.
Diagnosis of depression starts with a consultation with a counsellor. It is important to seek the help of counsellor to rule out different causes of depression, ensure an accurate differential diagnosis and secure safe and effective counselling.