By Advekit

Posted on July 16, 2019

Depression is a serious mental health condition. It affects more than a quarter of the adult population in the U.S. Anyone at almost any age (3 and older) can experience depression. While there are some key indicators of depression, it affects everyone differently. Science is only beginning to understand how depression develops and how it impacts those who are struggling from it.

Depression causes and effects

Understanding the causes and effects of depression can help us relate to the condition. By knowing what can cause depression, we can better help ourselves and others alleviate the symptoms. While learning about how depression feels for those who have it, we can become better at noticing the risk signs of this condition.

What Are The Causes of Depression?

As one of the most common mental conditions in the world, depression can seriously impact the lives of those who have it. In severe cases, depression can lead to suicidal thoughts and actions. Understanding the causes of depression can help us have a better understanding. Below are some of the main causes and risk factors of this serious condition:

Brain Chemistry

Depression has a major impact on the brain. Scientists are beginning to understand how changes in the chemistry of our brain can be linked to depression. In particular, changes to neurotransmitters seem to play a key role in the development of this condition.

Neurotransmitters are chemicals in our brain that help different areas of our body communicate with each other. This communication is key to a number of functions in our brain, including the regulation of our moods. When certain neurotransmitters aren’t functioning properly, our mood can be seriously affected. Over a long period of time, this can result in what we know as depression.


If others in your family have dealt with depression, you could be at a higher risk of also developing depression symptoms at some point in your life. The research into the role of genetics in the development of depression is still being studied, but strong ties have been made between depression in parents and their children. If you have immediate family members who have in the past struggled with depression, you may be more likely to develop this condition yourself.

Female Hormones

Women are almost twice as likely to suffer from a major depressive episode than men. Scientists believe that hormones are largely to blame for this imbalance. Women may be more prone to becoming depressed during times when their hormones are changing, such as around their menstrual period, after pregnancy (postpartum depression), and during menopause. 

Once a woman has gone through menopause and her hormones have stabilized, she’s less likely to become depressed. 


That’s right--seasonal changes can lead to depression for some people. Many individuals suffer from major depressive disorder with a seasonal pattern. This condition is thought to be caused by the disturbance of a person’s natural circadian rhythm.

Circadian rhythm is influenced by how much light enters a person’s eye. Especially during the winter when the days are shorter and people spend less time outside, this natural rhythm can become disturbed. People who live in colder climates closer to the poles, where days are especially short and more time is spent inside due to weather, may be at higher risk for this kind of depression. 

In the U.S., many people in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska suffer from seasonal depression.

Substance Abuse

Use of illicit drugs and alcohol can lead to the development of long-term depression. Even some prescription drugs can cause depression as a side effect. That’s why it’s imperative that you go to a trusted therapist who can carefully diagnose your symptoms of depression. 

Abuse of drugs or alcohol can also lead to depression. They can directly impact your brain chemistry as well as cause negative shifts in your social, personal, and work aspects of your life leading to a depressed state.

It’s important to note that having depression also makes it more likely for an individual to abuse drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism. When a person has a mental health condition like major depressive disorder in addition to a substance use disorder, it’s called a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder.

Life Events

Everyone goes through hard times and periods of sadness following difficult times in life. Loss of a loved one, the end of a relationship, and even stressful times at work can be very upsetting to our mental health. Sometimes this period continues for a long time and becomes very intense for the individual suffering. In these cases, depression might be diagnosed.

Everyone has different capacities to deal with grief and stress, so knowing exactly what will be a person’s tipping point is difficult until they have reached it. Talk therapy and other forms of peer support can be helpful in managing difficult times following a challenging life event.

Physical Ailments

Science is continuing to prove that the body and mind are more connected to one another than we used to think. Dealing with a serious injury or illness can be a huge stressor on our mental health. In addition, certain conditions such as thyroid disorders, liver disease, and Addison’s disease can directly lead to depression through certain brain chemistry changes.

What Are The Effects of Depression?

Depression can be totally debilitating. The condition presents itself differently in each person that it affects. But what are the specific effects of living with depression? Let’s take a look.

Psychological Impact

Moderate and severe depression are commonly known as mental health conditions. The effects of the disorder on a person’s mind can be quite severe. The following are some of the most common psychological effects of major depressive disorder:

  • Feeling hopeless and helpless. Depressed individuals commonly report having a bleak outlook on life with little or no hope that their condition will improve. 
  • Losing interest in activities. People with depression tend to lose interest in activities that they used to enjoy. This could include hobbies, sports, or even hanging out with friends. There also might be a loss of motivation to engage with work or school. 
  • Loss of energy. Energy is both a physical and a mental attribute. Depression makes people feel drained, sluggish, lethargic, and unmotivated. Activities that used to take very little effort might become overwhelmingly difficult.
  • Aggression and irritability. The disorder can cause you to lash out in unreasonable ways. Depressed people are more likely to become angry and irritable for little to no reason, and this might even express itself as violent in some cases. 
  • Low self-esteem. Feeling bad about yourself is a common part of being depressed. Feeling worthless and undeserving of love or attention can make the issue at hand even worse.
  • Self-harming behavior. Depressed people are more likely to engage in behavior that’s bad for them, such as abusing substances, gambling, driving unsafely, or even purposefully harming themselves.

Physical Effects

Depression isn’t just a mental health condition. The physical effects of this condition are well-documented by research and can include:

  • Changes in weight. Weight gain or loss is very common among depressed individuals. In fact, it’s one of the criteria that doctors use to diagnose the condition. Usually, weight changes are caused by changes in appetite and stress caused by depression.
  • Pain. Unexplained aches and pains are commonly reported by depressed people. Headaches, joint and muscle pain, and breast tenderness in women are among the most common kinds of pain.
  • Heart disease. Research has strongly linked depression to heart failure. Stress, unhealthy diet, and limited exercise are all common parts of being depressed that might contribute to heart problems in the future.
  • Sleep issues. Sleep changes are extremely common among depressed individuals and can include both insomnia and over-sleeping. Abnormal sleep can also exacerbate depressive symptoms.
  • Digestive issues. Troubles with digestion, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), have all been linked to depression. 
  • Worsening of chronic conditions. Existing health issues can contribute to depression. At the same time, depression can worsen these health issues. This may be due in part to a person’s inability to care for themselves during a depressive episode.
  • Sexual health impacts.  Unfortunately, depression can impact sexual health as well. Decreased sex drive, as well as trouble reaching orgasm, have been indicated in people with the condition. Relationship issues can also develop when one or more partner becomes depressed.

While severe depression can be intensely difficult, understanding its causes and effects can help you be more knowledgeable. Treatment options do exist and in some cases can include a combination of medication and therapy. These treatment options can go a long way toward improving the effects of depression. Find the right match for a therapist on Advekit if you’re interested in seeking out depression treatment. 


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Reviewed By

Alison LaSov, LMFT


Alison LaSov is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with experience treating clients struggling with anxiety and depression. She predominantly focuses on mental health intervention for children and adolescents, particularly those who are in crisis. She has worked within the Los Angeles education system treating students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), as well as supervised a non-profit Teen Crisis Hotline out of Cedars-Sinai Hospital. Alison earned her B.A. from UCLA and M.A. from Pepperdine University. She is a native to Los Angeles and co-founder at Advekit.

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