Depression is one of the most common mental health issues. In 2016, more than 16 million American adults suffered at least one episode of major depression and that number appears to be steadily rising. Symptoms of depression include depressed mood, inability to feel pleasure, loss of interest in activities, trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, loss of appetite or eating too much, fatigue, poor concentration, and thoughts of death or suicide. These symptoms have to persist for two weeks for a diagnosis of depression. Although anyone can become depressed under the right circumstances, there are some risk factors that make you more vulnerable to depression.
Genetics is perhaps the biggest risk factor for depression. If you have a parent or sibling with depression, you are at greater risk. If you happen to have an identical twin with depression, there is about a 70 percent chance you will also be depressed. The closer the relative, the greater the risk. Exactly how genes affect depression is unclear. It may have something to do with the balance of neurotransmitters or with how your body responds to stress.
Major life stress
Everyone responds differently to stress. Some carry it lightly and other do not. Some events are difficult for almost everyone. The death of a loved one, a divorce, or the loss of a job are common events that trigger an episode of depression. It’s normal to feel bad about all of these, but if you don’t start feeling better after a few months, it may be depression.
Chronic illness is one of those rare conditions that actually lowers your happiness setpoint. People get over most setbacks in life, even major ones like the loss of a limb, but chronic illness, especially chronic pain, seems to make people permanently less happy. In addition to chronic pain, conditions might include arthritis, diabetes, cancer, multiple sclerosis, and similar conditions.
Many medications have been shown to increase your risk of depression, which may compound the depressive effects of chronic illnesses. These include blood pressure medications, sleeping pills, steroids, and opioid painkillers.
Any kind of substance abuse can lead to depression. This can be a bit chicken-and-egg, as depression often leads to substance abuse as well. As with medications, substance abuse can lead to chemical changes in the brain that make you more vulnerable to depression. People with substance use disorders also frequently feel shame and helplessness because of addiction.
People who have endured or still endure abuse are more likely to become depressed. People in abusive relationships often feel helpless, that nothing they do will stop the abuse, and that sense of learned helplessness has been shown to be a major risk factor for depression.
People are inherently social creatures and social isolation can make people feel unworthy, lonely, and sad. As with addiction, depression often leads to isolation as well, creating a vicious cycle.
Women are almost twice as likely as men to struggle with depression. To some extent, this is because men and women show different symptoms of depression. Women are more likely to be sad and seek treatment, whereas men are more likely to be angry and distract themselves with video games or work. However, women do have risk factors that make them more prone to depression. For example, big hormonal changes, like during pregnancy, are thought to be a major risk factor. Women are also more likely to be victims of domestic abuse.
People aged 18 to 25 are about 50 percent more likely to suffer from depression than people aged 26 to 49, who are, in turn about 50 percent more likely to suffer from depression than people over 50 years old. So the younger you are, the greater your risk of depression.
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