Depression is something that affects millions of Americans every year. In fact, 1 in 10 of us will face depression. It’s more prevalent in women than men, according to WebMD.
Depression can have its roots in our genes, our relationships and our environments. It can be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, a difficult relationship, a death or stress at work.
Some reasons are more obvious than others, but there are causes for depression that can sneak up on us and catch us off guard. Let’s take a look at a few.
1) Physical Illness
Medical conditions like cancer, heart disease, stroke and multiple sclerosis are known physical issues that can cause depression. Many of us will ask loved ones with these maladies if they’re in any pain, if they need help with food preparation, getting to and from hospital visits or with medication.
But we may forget how people are affected mentally and emotionally by their physical illnesses. In fact, patients themselves may not even realize it.
Lack of independence, lack of sleep, fear, guilt and pain can all contribute to depression. The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance offers some eye-opening statistics about physical ill-health and depression from the National Institute of Mental Health.
Cancer: 25 percent of cancer patients experience depression. (National Institute of Mental Health, 2002)
Strokes: 10-27 percent of post-stroke patients experience depression. (NIMH, 2002)
Heart attacks: 1 in 3 heart attack survivors experience depression. (NIMH, 2002)
HIV: 1 in 3 HIV patients may experience depression. (NIMH, 2002)
Parkinson's disease: 50 percent of Parkinson's disease patients may experience depression. (NIMH, 2002)
Thyroid disorders can also be a cause of depression. If you or a loved one is diagnosed with any kind of medical condition, it’s important to be on the lookout for signs of mental or emotional deterioration and to follow up with treatment.
2) The Weather
According to EmpowHER's Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Advocacy Sheet, "Seasonal affective disorder can strike anyone. It is characterized by depression that happens roughly the same time each year, and can occur in the fall and continue until the winter is over. It can cause symptoms of moodiness, lack of energy, craving 'comfort' foods and can even occur (although more rarely) in the spring and summer months."
Also known as SAD, this form of depression can cause the “winter blues” but it can also be crippling for some people, lasting several months of the year. It’s more commonly seen in teens and women, but can affect anyone.
Lack of sunlight and a lack of vitamin D can cause this kind of depression, and the fact that many on the East coast and in the Midwest are confined to the indoors and are more isolated during the fall and winter can be enough to trigger depressive episodes.
There is also a genetic component to SAD, so look for signs in your family. A lack of serotonin and melatonin can also be to blame.
It’s also important to tell a trusted supervisor and a good friend what you're dealing with so that those around you know why you may be feeling this way. Think about changing your summer beach vacation to a winter one. Heat and sunshine are good therapy treatments for SAD.
If you find yourself feeling like this through the fall and winter, then talk to a doctor. Light therapy, medication, talk therapy and exercise can help you to pull through.
Believe it or not, medications taken to make us feel better can cause us to become depressed. Even anti-anxiety medications like Valium and Xanax can cause depression to set in. Other medications for blood pressure and cholesterol can also trigger depression.
Talk to your doctor about all the medications you are on, and the side effects. Also ask about contraindications between the medications you are on.
Research each medication for side effects. If depression is one of them, talk to your health care provider about alternatives, dose changes, or what to look out for. Tell your loved ones about the side effects too. Depressed people don’t always see it in themselves, or may be too down to reach out for help.
Depression will likely touch your life or that of a loved one at some point. Get to know the triggers and stay close to loved ones who may notice changes you don't. A doctor and therapist can also help. Don't be afraid to talk about what's going on in your life. There is help for depression, and seeking this help is the first step in healing.
Depression and BiPolar Disability Alliance. Depression Statistics. Web. Retrieved Oct 10th 2015.
EmpowHER.com. Mental Health. Mood Disorders. Seasonal Affective Disorder. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Advocacy Sheet. Web. Retrieved Oct 10th 2015.
Health.com. “12 Surprising Causes of Depression”. Web. Retrieved Oct 10th 2015.
WebMD. Depression Health Center. "1 in 10 Americans Experience Depression". Web. Retrieved Oct 19th 2015.
Reviewed October 19, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith