Causes of Depression
There are a variety of different causes of depression, but basically they fall under two different categories -- situational or biochemical, often referred to as clinical.
It's very important to differentiate the cause, because the course of action will be different according to what category it falls under.
Unfortunately, our society including psychologists, counselors and other mental health providers, are heavily influenced by the pharmaceutical industry and have been conditioned to believe that the answer to alleviating depression is found in prescription drugs. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
As both a mental health professional and someone who has experienced situational and biochemical depression personally, I can tell you that in either case, prescription drugs is not the solution.
Our society is conditioned by the pharmaceutical industry, mental health providers, medical society etc., to medicate all feelings rather than learning how to process them or look for underlying causes. Every time you feel sad, down, melancholy, shy, anxious etc. you are encouraged to pop a pill. Our mental health providers, society, health care practitioners etc. encourage addiction and suppression of feelings.
Regardless of whether the causes of depression are situational or biochemical, medicating them only perpetuates the problem in the long run.
Causes of Depression - Situational
In situational depression, some type of situation has occurred that is the root of the depression. In these cases, depression did not exist before this situation. This type of depression is a normal response to grief. It should not be medicated and suppressed. Grieving is supposed to occur when you experience a deep loss.
Any situation in life that causes loss or grief is likely to result in situational depression. This is normal.
Here are some common types of situational depression:
- Death of a loved one
- Loss of a job
- Ending of a relationship
- Significant life changes like a child beginning grade school, high school or college
- A child leaving home
- Developing a chronic health condition
- Loss of abilities or characteristics as we age
- Loss of a home
- Natural disaster
- Transitions like mid-life or menopause
- Changes that are forced upon you like relocating
In situational depression, you should allow yourself to feel the complete depth of your sadness, grief, loss and anger. Cry, mourn, scream and yell, if you feel the need. Own the feelings, embrace them, fully experience them.
Talk to a counselor, friends and family. Punch your pillow, jump up and down, throw rocks, write about it, exercise, join a support group. Nurture yourself, rest, relax, take time to lay around and feel lousy.
Venting is essential for situational depression. Let it all out. In time as you move through the phases of adjustment to loss, the depression will dissipate.
The key with situational depression is to work through the feelings and feelings are worked through by being acknowledged, expressed and released, not medicated.
Learning to have acceptance for feelings of sadness, loss, pain, depression, grief as a natural part of life and to cope with them instead of medicating them is the healthy response we should be taught.
Situational depression may result in feelings or thoughts of suicide, because the situation is unbearable. This too is a normal response to deep loss or grief. Talking these feelings and thoughts out is the key to recovery, not medication.
There is also a difference between feeling suicidal and being suicidal. If one is supported through the process of working out their suicidal feelings they are much less likely to move into the "being" suicidal" phase.
In situational depression, neurotransmitters may indeed be impacted by the loss and grief, however they will regain balance when the situation has passed and the feelings have been dealt with effectively.
Causes of Depression - Biochemical
Biochemical depression, also known as clinical depression, has a biochemical cause. It occurs for no identifiable reason, The individual usually feels deeply depressed as well as negativity, dread, gloom and doom. It is often accompanied by high levels of fear and anxiety and occurs on a daily basis for no apparent reason. It may be mild, moderate or severe. With the most severe leading to feelings of suicide that have no basis.
The difference between feeling suicidal with a biochemical cause and a situational cause is that in the biochemical there isn't anything specific in the life that can be attributed to this feeling. With biochemical depression, no amount of talking results in relief. Nothing makes them feel better.
The cause of biochemical depression is a disruption, deficiency or imbalance in neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the brain that are responsible for regulating our moods, thoughts, weight, sleep, pain perception and response an cognitive and mental performance.
The primary neurotransmitters involved in depression include serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine and endorphins. People with depression usually don't have enough of these neurotransmitters, or if anxiety is involved as well, they may have too much norepinephrine and not enough serotonin and/or dopamine.
Dopamine gives us pleasurable feelings. It makes us feel good, confident, euphoric and relaxed, and instills a heightened sense of overall well-being. It improves mood, alertness and libido. Serotonin plays a major role in mood, sleep, appetite, pain and regulating body temperature. It also contributes to good feelings of well-being and is often thought of as our natural anti-depressant. Norepinephrine is an excitatory neurotransmitter. It keeps you alert, helps you handle stress and if often thought of as our natural stimulant. Endorphins are the bodies built in natural pain reliever, they provide relief for pain when called for.
In order to feel happy, relaxed, balanced, normal etc. all these brain chemicals need to be functioning properly. Unfortunately that is not always the case. Sometimes there are not enough of them or too many of them. There may be a problem in production or function or in the receptors themselves. When these neurotransmitters are not produced or functioning adequately, then disorders in mood like depression develop.
You often see commercials on TV talking about a chemical imbalance that causes depression, the chemicals they are referring to are neurotransmitters. The prescription drugs they are suggesting you take manipulate your neurotransmitters. However, these drugs actually deplete and disrupt your neurotransmitters even further and ensure that depression will never go away.
Even the pharmaceutical companies own commercials tell us that two out of three people taking anti-depressants still experience symptoms of depression. This is because balance needs to be restored to the neurotransmitters through diet, nutrition and changes in lifestyle, not medication.
Imbalanced, deficient or malfunctioning neurotransmitters are caused by a variety of reasons which include the following:
- Child abuse
- Excess stress
- Refined carbohydrates
- Excessive consumption of complex carbohydrates
- Environmental toxins
- Food sensitivities or allergies
- Nutritional deficiencies or Imbalances
- Candida overgrowth
- Hormone imbalance
- Adrenal fatigue
- Heavy metal toxicity
Each of the issues above result in either a disruption, altering or depletion of neurotransmitters, which then results in depression, anxiety etc.
Sometimes there can be an overlapping between situational and biochemical depression such as in the case of child abuse, menopause and excessive stress. These situations can cause situational depression and biochemical depression.
Additionally, situational depression can result in biochemical depression if it goes on for an extended amount of time and/or is not dealt with effectively.
To alleviate biochemical depression, all substances and activities that cause overstimulation and disruption to the neurotransmitters must be stopped and each of the contributing factors listed above must be addressed.
For example, in my own life I overcame biochemical depression by getting counseling for childhood abuse issues, removing alcohol, drugs, wheat, sugar, caffeine and refined foods from my diet, addressing my hypothyroidism, eating a diet that kept my hypoglycemia and candida overgrowth under control, removing environmental toxins from my living space and eating organic.
Another very common natural approach to relieving depression is the use of targeted amino acid therapy. Amino acids are the building blocks for neurotransmitters and many people are deficient in amino acids. By replacing the amino acids, neurotransmitters can be brought back into balance. Many practitioners prescribe tryptophan or 5-HTP to increase serotonin, tyrosine to increase norepinephrine and dopamine, and/or DPA or DLPA to increase endorphins. However, amino acid therapy should be done under the supervision of a health care provider with expertise in neurotransmitter balancing. Please read my page on neurotransmitters for more in depth information on this topic.
A condition called pyroluria can also be at the root of depression. Pyroluria is a blood disorder that results in a deficiency of vitamin B6 and zinc and a problem in producing serotonin. It can be diagnosed with a simple blood test and managed by supplementing the diet with zinc, vitamin B6 and other nutrients. This condition should be treated by a knowledgeable health care provider as it is important to take the correct dose. Too little can be ineffective and too much can actually be harmful.
You can find a comprehensive recovery approach to depression in my book, What Your Psychologist Hasn't Told You About Anxiety and Depression, and overcome cravings for the addictive substances that typically accompany these conditions as well.
The causes of depression are usually many, not just one or two. They usually occur in a cluster. It takes time and commitment to explore all avenues and identify your triggers. It's also important to keep in mind that recovery from biochemical or clinical depression is on-going, if you return to a diet or lifestyle that includes sugar, caffeine, environmental toxins, excessive stress, etc., then depression will return. Taking amino acids or other supplements without addressing these issues will not result in long-term recovery. You must make permanent changes in your diet and lifestyle.