Have you wondered what causes depression? You may have heard that it’s a chemical imbalance that is to blame for depression but this actually only tells part of the story. The true picture is a lot more complicated than this.
Depression doesn’t tend to have any one single cause and it can be a combination of factors that encourage it to develop. This means that there won’t be any one off event or situation that triggers depression.
Here are some of the things that are thought to play key roles in depression:
Chemical Imbalances in the Brain
Most antidepressant medications target the chemical transmitters in the brain, notably serotonin and noradrenaline. This is why a lot of people believe that a chemical imbalance is a reason for their symptoms.
What actually causes a chemical imbalance in the first place is complicated as there are so many chemicals involved in regulating mood. It’s not as simple as having too much of a particular brain chemical or too little of another.
Studies are currently looking at the possible connection between low mood and the production of nerve cells in the brain. Antidepressants are designed to boost neurotransmitters in the brain but this generally takes weeks or even months to happen. If a chemical imbalance were the main reason for depression, you’d expect that people would feel better much more quickly than this.
One theory that has been put forward to explain this revolves around the idea that mood is enhanced as new nerve cells form and grow. This process takes a while to happen, which is potentially why you don’t feel better straight away after you start taking medication.
There can be a genetic link to depression and it can run in families. If you have a close family member who has been affected by depression, it can increase your chances of being impacted too. This may be because you are more at risk of being knocked off kilter when life throws a curveball compared to someone who doesn’t have these same genes. It’s also thought that some genes make you more likely to experience the stress response, and this can open the door to depression as a knock on effect.
That isn’t to say that everyone with a family history of depression will experience it as there are other factors that can combine to make this more likely.
Personality can play a part in how likely you are to develop depression. This can include:
Worrying about things
Having low self-esteem
Being prone to negative and/or critical thinking
Being a perfectionist
This is another area where your genes can play a part, although life experiences can also shape your temperament.
Life Changes and Stressful Events
We all experience some degree of stress in your lives and if you’re susceptible to depression as a result of factors such as your genes and personality, this could then lead to depression.
For some people, life events can trigger depression and this is more likely if they encourage ongoing stress. This can include things like ill health, being in a bad or abusive relationship, long term unemployment, isolation and chronic work stress.
The link between stress and depression isn’t fully known yet but research has shown that the hippocampus region of the brain is smaller in people who are experiencing depression. And for those who had suffered more than one period of depression, the hippocampus was even smaller. This has led experts to think that stress can actually hinder the production of new nerve cells in this area of the brain – hence its reduced size in depressed people.
Hypnotherapy and Depression
Given that the causes of depression are complex, what does that mean for treating it?
As a chemical imbalance isn’t the main problem, medications won’t work for everyone and many people don’t feel comfortable taking them in the long term even if they do work for them.
Psychological treatments that aim to tackle depression by getting to the bottom of why it has affected you and provide coping strategies can be a much better option.
Hypnotherapy is an example of this and can help to reverse negative thinking patterns that may be making your depression worse, for example. It can be a really effective type of therapy if it’s used in conjunction with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to treat depression.