Some people are more at risk for developing depression than others. Here’s what you need to know, along with warning signs to look for.
Depression is not a condition to be taken lightly. Depression affects more than 20 million Americans and the countless friends, family, and other loved ones who support them. Knowing depression risk factors can alert you to circumstances that might make you more likely to develop the illness or help you better understand the disease if you’re going through it.
Depression Risk Factors: Genetics and Environment
Of all the depression risk factors, one of the greatest is genetics, said Donald P. Hall, MD, a psychiatrist and author of Breaking Through Depression. “Genetic risks inherited from parents account for 50 percent of the risk for developing depression,” Dr. Hall said. “If one of your parents suffered with depressive illness, your risk of depression doubles.”
“The other 50 percent of risk for depression comes from environmental stress,” added Dr. Hall. “The most common stressful event leading to depression andsuicide is the break-up of a loving relationship. Other stressful events include the death of a child, loss of a job, or divorce.”
Gender as a Depression Risk Factor
Your gender may play a role in your depression risk, too, as women seem more likely to be affected than men. “The risk for developing depression at some point in our lifetimes is 10 percent for men and 20 percent for women,” said Hall. “Two out of 10 women you know will develop clinical depression at some point in their lives.” Hall also believed that, in general, women are more sensitive than men when relationship problems occur. “Social bonding and maternal instincts lead women to value intimate relationships more deeply than men. When their children experience hardships or relationships end, women tend to feel the loss more acutely than men. These stressful experiences can trigger the ‘chemical cascade’ and lead to depression.”
Linda Carman Copel, PhD, a psychotherapist and professor at Villanova University in Philadelphia, Pa., saw another reason why women are depressed more frequently than men. “Depression occurs in both genders, but men delay seeking treatment,” Copel said. “Often in my practice, men wait and are likely to self-medicate with alcohol; become angry, aggressive, and even violent to people and to things in their environment; engage in distracting behavior; or become involved in high-risk, reckless behaviors until the behavior no longer works for them.”
Depression and Ethnic Background
Some studies suggest that your ethnic background may also play a role in depression, but the jury is still out on this. “The data regarding the prevalence of depression by race or ethnicity in the United States are contradictory,” said Simon Rego, PsyD, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. “Some studies suggest that certain minority groups like African-Americans have higher rates of depression, while other studies suggest that the rates are about the same.”
The reason that some racial groups may have higher rates of depression than others might be related more to sociology than their ethnic background, said Rego. “Some experts suggest that instead of race or ethnicity per se, a more important determining factor is one that is unfortunately often tied to race: poverty.” Rego added that this is often due to the additional stresses faced by those with financial problems.
David Sack, MD, CEO of Promises Treatment Centers in California and author of more than 50 journal articles on depression, added one other critical risk factor for depression: “Abuse of drugs and alcohol increases the risks of becoming depressed,” Dr. Sack said. “This is probably due to the changes in brain chemistry that drugs of abuse cause, as well as the myriad of social, occupational, and interpersonal problems that occur when someone becomes addicted.”
If you feel that you are at risk of depression or are already depressed, don’t wait to get help. Talk with your doctor and discuss possible courses of treatment to address your condition.