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There are so many things that can contribute to the development of depression. These factors can include genetics, environment, and even things like traumatic brain injuries from sports or accidents.

Depression affects millions of people, and understanding it can be important if you’re dealing with it or you have a loved one who is.

The following are things to know about depression, including some of the potential causes.

What is Depression?

Depression can range from mild to severe and it’s considered a medical illness. Depression affects your thoughts, behaviors, and most aspects of your life, but it’s treatable. For someone to be diagnosed with depression, their symptoms must last for at least two weeks. The symptoms must also interfere with functionality.

If someone thinks they have depression, they need to speak with a professional because the symptoms are often similar and tough to separate from those of other medical conditions. For example, thyroid problems and vitamin deficiencies can mimic depressive symptoms.

For someone diagnosed with depression, treatment plans can include medication or psychotherapy. For many people, a combination of treatment methods works well.

The following are some of the causes of depression.

Imbalances in Brain Chemistry

Many factors can lead to depression. A biological cause is an imbalance in brain neurotransmitters and especially the neurotransmitters associated with mood regulation.

When your brain doesn’t have enough of certain neurotransmitters, it can lead to clinical depression.

You may also experience depression if you have too much of certain neurotransmitters.

Medical Conditions

If you have some physical health conditions, you may be more likely to experience depression symptoms.

For example, if you have a chronic illness, thyroid condition, or sleep disorder, you’re more at risk for developing depression. Cancer, multiple sclerosis, and chronic pain are similarly linked to an increased risk.

Sex Hormones

Women are about twice as likely to experience major depression as men.

These disorders peak during a women’s reproductive years, leading doctors and researchers to theorize hormones can be a risk factor. Women are especially likely to have depression around times when their hormones are fluctuating, such as during pregnancy and around the time of their period.

The risk of depression for women goes down after menopause.

Genetics and Family History

If you have a close family member with depression, you may be more likely to have it as well. That doesn’t mean you definitely will, but around 40% of depression is thought to be determined by genetics.

Researchers don’t currently know which particular genes play a role in depression.

Scientists do know there’s not one specific genetic risk factor, and there’s not usually one single cause of depression either. Things work together. For example, genetics and the environment can interact with one another and control how certain genes are expressed.

Lifestyle Factors

There are different ways your lifestyle can influence your risk of developing depression.

For example, if you have a poor diet you may be more likely to, in turn, have vitamin deficiencies. That can cause depression. High-sugar diets are also linked to depression.

Stress can be a cause of depression. If you have high levels of a hormone called cortisol, which is released when you’re experiencing stress, it can affect serotonin, a neurotransmitter playing a role in depression.

While it’s normal to feel grief after a loss, for some people, it can lead to depression.

The use of alcohol and drugs can contribute to disorders related to depression.

Traumatic Brain Injury

This was touched on a bit above, but having a TBI can raise your risk of developing depression.

Around half of all people with TBI are affected by depression within a year after their injury. Around two-thirds are affected within seven years of the injury. The rates of depression are significantly lower in the general population. People with TBI and depression also tend to have anxiety.

There are a few reasons TBI and depression tend to occur together.

One is because TBI physically changes the brain.

Depression can also happen if you’re dealing with the effects of an injury that can change your career, family role, or lead to a disability.

There may also be factors present before a TBI like genes and family history that become more pronounced after a brain injury.

How Is Depression Diagnosed?

As with any other medical condition, your doctor may use several different types of tests as they’re making a diagnosis of depression.

First, a doctor may do a physical exam. The goal initially is to rule out any underlying medical conditions that could be mimicking the symptoms of depression. As part of this, your doctor may also do blood tests and check your thyroid function.

From there, if you were visiting your regular doctor for these tests, they may refer you to a psychiatrist if they don’t find evidence of underlying conditions.

A psychiatrist will perform an initial evaluation to ask you about your thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and symptoms.

Mental health professionals use the criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to help make a diagnosis. This guide is published and updated by the American Psychiatric Association.

There are different types of depression you may be diagnosed with.

The most common diagnosis is major depressive disorder. Symptoms include weight gain or loss, loss of interest or pleasure in activities, feeling sleeping during the day, feeling restless, and being tired or having low energy levels.

You could be diagnosed with major depression if you have five of the symptoms on most days for two weeks or longer.

Another type of depression is called persistent depressive disorder, which lasts for two years or more. Symptoms include changes in appetite, low self-esteem, feelings of hopelessness, and problems with concentration or decision-making.

Regardless of why you think you might have depression, if you experience symptoms, it is important to talk to a professional. First, you have to get a true diagnosis and then the appropriate treatment. Don’t assume that symptoms you’re experiencing are normal, but do realize they are treatable if it’s depression.

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