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Risk Factors for Depression
by Amy Scholten, MPH
It is possible to develop depression with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing depression. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your doctor what you can do to reduce your risk.
Family History of Mental Illness
People with a family history of mood disorders tend to be at increased risk of developing depression. A spouse with depression can also increase your risk.
Chronic Physical or Mental Disorders
In recent years, researchers have found that physical changes in the body can be accompanied by mental changes. Chronic conditions (such as stroke, heart attack, cancer, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson's disease, kidney disease, and type 2 diabetes) can increase the risk of depression. Depression may develop after brain injuries. Chronic pain is also known to be associated with depression. In older adults it can be associated with hearing loss.
A history of one or more previous episodes of depression significantly increases the risk of another episode.
Major Life Changes and Stress TOP
A stressful change in life can trigger a depressive episode. Stressful events may include a serious loss, a difficult relationship, trauma, combat or other violence, or financial problems. A history of stressful episodes in childhood, such as physical and sexual abuse, domestic violence, bullying, or a parent on military deployment can increase your risk of depression.
Little or No Social Support TOP
Having few or no supportive relationships can increase the risk of depression in both men and women. Rates of depression have been found to be higher in women who describe themselves as isolated and are at home with young children compared to women who are working or have a supportive social network. In many cases, lacking healthy social networks has been found to precede the onset of depression.
Psychological Factors TOP
Certain psychological factors put people at risk for depression. People who have low self-esteem, are pessimistic, or are readily overwhelmed by stress may be prone to depression.
Other psychological traits, such as perfectionism and sensitivity to loss and rejection, may increase a person’s risk for depression. Depression is also more common in people with chronic anxiety disorders, as well as certain personality disorders.
Adolescents who engage in self-harm by age 16 (with or without intent of suicide) are at a higher risk for a diagnosis of depression by young adulthood. Those with suicidal intent had a higher risk than those who did not.
Low Socioeconomic Status TOP
Being in a low socioeconomic group is a risk factor for depression. This may be due to factors such as perceived low social status, cultural factors, financial problems, stressful environments, social isolation, and greater daily stress.
Female Gender TOP
Women experience depression about twice as often as men. Hormonal factors may contribute to the increased rate of depression in women, particularly during premenstrual changes, pregnancy, miscarriage, postpartum period, and menopause. Many women face additional stresses, such as having responsibilities at work and home and being the primary caretaker for children and aging parents.
The elderly are at a particularly high risk for depression. They are often not treated or inappropriately treated for their symptoms. Depression is a disorder that can occur at any age and needs proper treatment.
African Americans are less likely than whites to develop depression. But, when they do, it is often more chronic and severe. African Americans are also less likely to get treatment for depression.
Sleep Disorders TOP
Chronic sleep problems, like insomnia, are strongly associated with depression and require treatment.
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Last reviewed September 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 1/4/2016
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