Before I begin talking about some of the causes of depression, I want to get a few things out of the way immediately. First off, if you are feeling suicidal, or think you may harm yourself, please call the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) right now. If you feel like your depression may be putting someone else in danger (like a child) call 911. I am beginning with such serious, heavy suggestions because depression is a serious and heavy matter – but there is help all around you!
If you are feeling depressed, it is natural to want to understand why. Understanding what depression is, and why it happens, may be the first step towards feeling better. While the road to recovery may be long, you should still travel it. You ended up here somehow, so let’s start figuring out how to get back. There are a number of common reasons for depression, and one of them might be of some help to you.
It’s a Chemical Imbalance
You may have heard that term before, but what does it mean? It breaks down like this, there are chemicals in your brain which are responsible for transmitting signals among the neurons in your brain. You will hear them labeled as “Serotonin”, “Dopamine”, “Norepinephrine”, “Epinephrine”, and “Histamine”. When one or more of these chemicals becomes either over or under-active, they can lead to severe changes in mood.
For this reason, it is often recommended that your first order of business upon realizing that you may be depressed should be seeing your doctor. It does not have to be a specialist, or a therapist – just your primary care physician. They will typically do a routine exam, ask you questions about your mood, and draw blood to look for underlying causes. If you are found to have a chemical imbalance, you will probably be prescribed antidepressants, which have been shown to be tremendously helpful for most people.
Of course, medication is only one of the strategies you can employ to overcome depression – and indeed, there may be some trial and error in finding just the right prescription. Seeing a therapist, and making lifestyle changes may also be recommended to help improve your symptoms.
The very appropriately named “S.A.D.” stands for “Seasonal Affective Disorder”, and it is the term used to describe feelings of depression which tend to show up or worsen in the winter. These symptoms can affect anyone, even those who would describe themselves as “not prone to depression”. When the combination of darker, shorter days, and nasty weather conspire to keep us cooped up inside, this can absolutely lead to feelings of listlessness, depression and even anxiety. Some might argue that the lack of fresh, abundant produce and healthy foods that come along with summer months may be part of the issue too.
In these cases, it is also recommended that you see a doctor, but they may recommend a course of action other than medication. Perhaps regular exercise, light therapy, and even just allowing yourself to be in group settings more often might help pull you out of the slump.
It’s Your Situation
Make no mistake, your day to day circumstances can make or break your mood. If you are in a situation which continually causes you stress, sadness or feelings of helplessness, these can lead to an overall depression that begins to consume you. Some causes are more obvious than others. Take grief for example. If you have recently experienced the loss of a loved one, depression is one of the stages of grief. It may last longer than you thought it would, and the depths of the feelings you are grappling with may surprise you. While this is absolutely normal, if you find it disruptive, you may want to seek out your doctor for help. The doctor will probably point you towards some grief support programs, or even consider medication.
If you are in a troubled romantic relationship, those feelings may be all consuming as well. You may want to consider seeking out some counseling to help repair things, or perhaps it is time to move away from the relationship altogether. If your relationship is making you feel unsafe, or if you are being abused in some way, please reach out to someone immediately. Even though you may feel like you are trapped, there is always a way out, no matter what. You deserve better.
Problems at work can also lead to depression. If you feel you are being taken advantage of, disrespected, overworked, etc. on a continual basis, these downtrodden feelings can begin to creep into every facet of your life. Speaking to someone at work about reducing the conflict may help, but again, it may also be time to move on. Part of the depression cycle might be what is keeping you at work. Even though you know logically that if you looked for another job, the problems at this job would end, emotionally, you don’t feel ready to leave. Maybe you fear the change associated with a new job, or have grown complacent. Again, reach out to others for support in these cases.
You’ve Just Been Though Something Tough
Did you just have a baby? Did you recently have a surgical procedure, or endure a long illness? Did you fail out of school? Were you in a car accident? Did you get divorced? Are you a returning veteran?
These are all life changing events which can be very hard to reconcile. They are all shocks to the system which can translate into feelings of depression for you. Others around you may not understand this, especially when the occasions are “happy” like a homecoming or a new baby. No matter what others say YOU are the best gauge of your own feelings. If something isn’t right, you are the one who decides that. Reach out to others, talk to your doctor and get on the road to recovery. Thousands of other people have been where you are. Even though you may be feeling alone, you are not.