What Causes Depression?
By Russell Holloway
Christian Counseling Finder Co-founder
Last week I was on Twitter and reading messages from people feeling depressed and looking for help. Their messages are heartbreaking and it hurts to know people are struggling. It triggers something in my heart to want to help these people.
Depression can be crushing. It is easy to become frustrated with people in our lives who experience persistent forms of clinical depression. We want them to “snap out of it!” or “Just decide to be happy!” But, they cannot. Depression for them is not a choice. They cannot “fix depression” without someone’s help, and even with professional help the road to recovery can be long and difficult.
Depression at the most basic level is a normal emotion. Everyone experiences sadness, low-mood or unhappiness associated with depression at some point in life. When feelings of hopelessness persist or start to interfere with everyday life, treatment for depression becomes important and could be life saving.
The causes for persistent clinical depression are sometimes hard to pin down. But, there are three broad categories that counselors and therapists can consider when helping a person reduce or overcome depression. These three categories include situational depression, trauma related depression, and depression rooted in a person’s biochemistry.
Situational depression could result from, but is not limited to, the death of a loved-one; during or after a divorce; the loss of a job; retirement; empty nest after the children have left home, etc. There are other examples for sure, but the common thread is that a person’s sense of self, his or her identity, is negatively impacted by the loss or change in an important relationship. When a person experiences relational loss the resulting emotion is sometimes depression. Helping the person adjust to the loss, and helping them reestablish their identity is often the focus of counseling.
Trauma related depression is an extreme example of situational depression and can stand on it’s own as a category. When a person experiences an emotional trauma where potential loss of life or injury exists, like combat trauma, a severe auto accident, or physical assault, etc., clinical depression can result. Sexual trauma, like rape or childhood sexual abuse, can also be a precursor to adult clinical depression. Depression is often a factor when emotional trauma progresses to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Many Psychiatrists believe there are genetic and biochemical factors that contribute to depression. Brain functioning is impacted by the quality of neurotransmitter functioning, especially how neurotransmitters handle biochemicals in the brain called serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. There are effective biochemical treatments, medications, for this type of depression. Counseling and talk therapy is a critical adjunct for some people treating biochemical depression with medication.
There is potential for overlap in all three categories. Example: Someone could suffer a traumatic brain injury in a car accident where biochemistry is impacted, emotional trauma occurs, and situational job loss results. – Up to 15% of people suffering from clinical depression complete a suicide. It is important that people sufferingfrom persistent depression seek help from a medical doctor, counselor or therapist immediately.