Types And Causes of Depression

While it’s true we don’t know exactly what causes depression, a number of factors are often linked to its development and there are some treatments (as opposed to outright single ‘cures’) which can be effective when used in combination.

There are also a number of different categories and intensities of ‘ depression’ itself, including Major Depressive Disorder (Clinical Depression, Unipolar Depression, ‘Depression’), Melancholia, Psychotic Depression, Ante and Postnatal Depression, Situational Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Cyclothymic Disorder, Dysthymia and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Sean Panambalana (Assoc. MAPS., BA.LLB) one of our resident Psychologists at Therapy Words refers us to Beyond Blue’s website to learn more…

Depression usually results from a combination of recent events and other longer-term or personal factors, rather than one immediate issue or event.

Life Events

Research suggests that continuing difficulties – long-term unemployment, living in an abusive or uncaring relationship, long-term isolation or loneliness, prolonged work stress – are more likely to cause depression than recent life stresses. However, recent events (such as losing your job) or a combination of events can ‘trigger’ depression if you’re already at risk because of previous bad experiences or personal factors.

Personal Factors

  • Family history – Depression can run in families and some people will be at an increased genetic risk. However, having a parent or close relative with depression doesn’t mean you’ll automatically have the same experience. Life circumstances and other personal factors are still likely to have an important influence.
  • Personality – Some people may be more at risk of depression because of their personality, particularly if they have a tendency to worry a lot, have low self-esteem, are perfectionists, are sensitive to personal criticism, or are self-critical and negative.
  • Serious medical illness – The stress and worry of coping with a serious illness can lead to depression, especially if you’re dealing with long-term management and/or chronic pain.
  • Drug and alcohol use – Drug and alcohol use can both lead to and result from depression. Many people with depression also have drug and alcohol problems. Over 500,000 Australians will experience depression and a substance use disorder at the same time, at some point in their lives.1

Changes in the Brain

Although there’s been a lot of research in this complex area, there’s still much we don’t know. Depression is not simply the result of a ‘chemical imbalance’, for example because you have too much or not enough of a particular brain chemical. It’s complicated, and there are multiple causes of major depression. Those other factors such as genetic vulnerability, severe life stressors, substances you may take and medical conditions can affect the way your brain regulates your moods.

Most modern antidepressants have an effect on neurotransmitters (serotonin and noradrenaline) which relay messages between brain cells – this is thought to be how medications work for more severe depression.


If you’re experiencing moderate to severe depression a doctor may prescribe antidepressant medication, along with psychological treatments. Antidepressants are sometimes prescribed when other treatments have not been successful or when psychological treatments aren’t possible due to the severity of the condition or a lack of access to the treatment.

People with more severe forms of depression (bipolar disorder and psychosis) generally need to be treated with medication. This may include one or a combination of mood stabilisers, anti-psychotic drugs and antidepressants.

Closely supervised electro-convulsive therapy is still sometimes used for the most severe, treatment resistant and debilitating forms of depression.

Psychological treatment can also help you to regulate your moods and mindfulness practice can assist in identifying and addressing relapse.

Effective treatment or treatment combinations can stimulate the growth of new nerve cells in circuits that regulate your mood, which is thought to play a critical part in recovering from the most severe episodes of depression.

Everybody is different and it’s often a combination of factors that can contribute to developing, treating and recovering from depression. While we can’t always identify the cause of depression or change difficult circumstances, the most important thing is to recognise the signs and symptoms and seek support.’

Natalie Dalton
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