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10 Risk Factors For Developing Depression

It is estimated that a quarter of people will at some point in their lives visit a doctor because of a mood disorder. Depression is one of the most common diagnoses.

Whilst it is a normal part of life to feel sad from time to time, with depression a low mood and feelings of sadness persist or keep coming back. Ongoing sadness can also bring with it a host of other symptoms that can affect a person’s quality of life. These can include appetite changes, sleep disruption and lethargy. Depression is not just a low mood that a person can snap out of, although the good news is that most people do recover from episodes of depression.

Depression is not a condition that occurs overnight but rather, can develop over a period of time. Here are 10 risk factors for developing depression.


Trauma that has been suffered at any stage of life can predispose a person to depression. This may be trauma from child abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence or emotional abuse. A German study  found that three quarters of people with chronic depression had experienced childhood trauma.

Substance Misuse

Alcohol and other drugs are mostly taken because at the time of use they help a person feel better by triggering a release of the pleasure chemicals in the brain. But just as these chemical levels rise so quickly, they also come crashing down afterwards, leaving the user depressed and anxious.

Woman with her head on the table, holding a wine glass

Health Problems

Living with a chronic health condition can have a significant affect on a person’s mood. For example studies have shown a link between chronic pain and depression. Serious or critical illness is also associated with the development of depression. Mental illness after a heart attack is very common. Depression and anxiety are reported in over a third of people who suffer from a heart attack, and these mental health issues can persist long term in up to a fifth of sufferers. Several studies have shown the increased incidence of depression in people diagnosed with cancer as well as in other situations where a person has an experience which brings them close to mortality.

Relationship Problems

Any relationship issues can lead to depression. Whether you’re not getting along with family members, friends or co-workers, ongoing and unresolved conflict is a strong contributor to mental illness.

Financial Problems

Feeling stressed about finances is a common trigger for anxiety about the future. Financial security falls into the second tier of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Feeling safe is a basic human need, and not having enough money creates chronic stress that impacts on mental health.

Social Problems

Loneliness is one of the most significant social issues that fuels depression with up to 1 in 4 Australians reporting feeling lonely. Changes in societal structures and globalization means that families and loved ones are often separated from each other. Additionally, loneliness rates have risen exponentially in young people too in this age of technology with the loss of meaningful face to face interactions and artificial interactions on social media. Social media has been linked with feelings of being lesser-than as people compare their lives with the seemingly amazing ones being displayed on social media sites.


The loss of a loved one can cause feelings of intense grief in the first few weeks or months after the loss. And when these feelings persist and impact on the day to day quality of a person’s life, they may be diagnosed with depression.


Although it is not fully understood why, women are twice as likely to suffer from depression as men. Women have a greater predisposition to depression at certain times in their lives e.g. during and after pregnancy where up to 70% of women can experience some change in mood, as well as around the time of menopause.

Woman falling asleep at her desk

Sleep Disorders

Chronic sleep deprivation has a significant impact on a person’s mood. Whilst sleep disturbance is a recognized symptom of depression, it is known that sleep problems can also lead to depression. Lack of sleep leads to elevated stress-hormone levels (cortisol) which may have an influence on happy hormone (serotonin) levels in the brain. Lack of sleep also leads to underperformance in many areas of life as clarity and focus are affected. This may result in problems at work or in relationships, that then add to the existing stress and depression a sleep deprived person may be experiencing. Chronic exhaustion may result in social isolation, exacerbating feelings of loneliness.


A number of commonly used medications may impact a person’s mood negatively. Ones to be aware of are beta blockers (used in heart disease or to treat symptoms of anxiety), benzodiazepines (used to treat anxiety, insomnia or muscle spasms), steroids which can alter brain serotonin levels, Parkinson’s medications which affect brain dopamine levels, hormone therapies like birth control, fertility medications, treatments for menopause, anti-seizure treatments and possibly even some drugs used to treat indigestion.

If you think you might be suffering from depression, talk to your healthcare professional about how they can help you. In Australia you can also visit Beyond Blue or in the UK Mind.

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