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What Can Cause Depression?

Depression is a real, treatable illness. Certain factors can trigger it. Below are some common known causes. Any of these factors, or a combination of them, can make depression more likely. Sometimes depression occurs for no one clear reason. But no matter what the cause, depression is a serious illness that can be treated.

Loss or stress

Depression can occur in children and adults, but it often starts in adulthood. Normal grief over a death, breakup, or other loss may become depression. Life stresses such as physical abuse, job loss, or a sudden change in finances can also trigger depression. In some cases, years can go by before the depression sets in.

Family history

The tendency to develop depression seems to run in families. If one or more of your close relatives (parents, grandparents, or siblings) have had an episode of depression, you may be more likely to develop the illness, too.

Drugs and alcohol

Both drugs and alcohol can upset the chemical balance in the brain. This can lead to an episode of depression. Some depressed people turn to drugs or alcohol to numb the pain. But in the long run, doing so just makes depression worse.


Depression can be a side effect of some medicines for high blood pressure, cancer, pain, and other health problems. So tell your doctor about how you are feeling and discuss the role your medicines may play in your symptoms. But never stop taking one without your doctor’s OK.

Physical illness

Being sick can make anyone feel frustrated and sad. But some health problems may cause actual changes in your brain that lead to depression. Other health problems such as an underactive thyroid may be mistaken for depression.


Hormones carry messages in the bloodstream. They may affect brain chemicals, leading to depression. Women may get depressed when their hormone levels change quickly, such as just before their period, after giving birth, or during menopause.

Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Paul Ballas MD
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2022
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