While discussing mental health problems has long held a stigma, they are incredibly prevalent in our society. Depression is a common disorder that impacts more than 264 million people (Source: WHO). As one of the leading disorders among all disabilities, many people experience depression for “no reason,” meaning beyond life experience and family history.
There will always be a cause of depression, whether that be medical or external factors that have triggered symptoms. With many intersecting causes that are often unknown to us, it can feel like depression occurs without a reason or explanation. Understanding that depression is a medical condition rather than a response or choice is necessary for growth.
Rather than looking at reasons that may explain your depression, reframing the conversation to focus on causes and treatment is more beneficial. Being depressed without reason may suggest medical differences or external factors that need to be examined. Depression does not require reasons to seek resources and is not a personal reflection on someone.
Taking Depression Without Reasons Seriously
If there is not a concrete “reason” that you or others can find to justify your feelings of depression, that does not mean that they aren’t there and shouldn’t be addressed. The common narrative of, “What reason do you have to be depressed?” or “Your life is great, you’re not depressed” are dangerous for individuals who need to seek resources.
“Reason” is in quotations because there is no one reason you must have to be depressed or experience symptoms. This ties into the preconceived notions of mental health issues and that some causes or reasons are more legitimate than others (they’re not!).
This can cause you to begin to question your feelings and trigger more significant negative emotional responses, further worsening your condition. This narrative contributes to the stigma surrounding mental health and prevents people from seeking effective treatment (Source: National Institute of Health).
If you are experiencing depression without finding a “reason,” looking at the common causes of depression and their potential intersection can provide more clarity and reassurance that a reason is not required to be diagnosed with depression.
Causes of Depression (With or Without a Reason)
Looking at the common causes of depression is crucial to understanding why you may be experiencing fluctuations in emotional response. This process of education allows you to learn more about the medical disorder and how people can be affected by it. Multiple variables often interact with one another to bring about depression in varying levels of intensity.
Depression is a complicated disorder because of the many factors involved and the complexities involved in the brain. Internal factors can be responsible for depressive states (most often responsible for feeling depressed without reason) and external factors that interact with your brain to change chemical levels, nerve cell connections, and nerve function. (Source: Harvard Medical School)
Because our brains are complex systems when compounded with external factors, depression cannot be easily diagnosed due to one reason. The intersectionality of causes is often responsible for specific disorders. Those who experience depression without reason may have many small factors at play that lead to the presence of the disorder.
These are the common causes of depression, which may work in conjunction with one another:
- Brain structure: Differences in the shape of the amygdala, hippocampus, and thalamus have been linked with increased levels of depression in some patients. These areas are responsible for regulating mood and memory. A smaller hippocampus is often present in those suffering from major depression. (Source: Medical News Today)
- Nervous system: While depression is commonly attributed to imbalanced chemical levels of neurotransmitters, the nerve cell connections and growth also have an impact on depression. (Source: Neuron) Studies and brain scans are necessary to identify these variations.
- Family history: Depression can also be genetic, making the disorder more likely for those with family histories. While there are multiple types of depression, major depression (clinical depression) can be hereditary in 40-50% of cases. (Source: Stanford Medicine) External factors typically account for the other 50%.
- Life events: Stress is a risk factor for depression, increased by the severity of an event. Specific events often have a more significant impact on the development of depression than chronic stressors. (Source: Family Institute)
- Medication: Some medications may have adverse side effects that cause depressive symptoms. While these medications may be necessary for other health issues, finding the proper dosage, brand or alternatives is necessary to avoid depression. Mood-altering drugs may trigger these symptoms (Source: Consumer Reports). While further research is necessary, combining multiple medications and using specific beta-blockers, acne medication, anti-obesity meds, steroids, and some cancer medications can cause depression. (Source: National Health Institute)
- Environmental factors: External stressors such as poverty, abuse, and violence can lead to the onset of depression. (Source: American Psychiatric Association) Diet, lack of sleep, overexertion, and lack of exercise can also contribute to feelings of depression and fluctuations in mood. (Source: Gulf Bend Center) These consistent stressors can have harmful psychological effects and be exacerbated when combined with other causes.
- Seasonal depression: Also known as seasonal affective disorder, changes in weather can trigger depression depending on the time of year. This is most common in winter and unpleasant months, but can also appear during the summer. (Source: Cleveland Clinic) These symptoms are often triggered around the same time every year and may require activity therapy or medication.
- Presence of other mental disorders: Anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other mental health disorders are commonly linked with depression. Mood disorders are closely linked with mental disorders and increase the likelihood of developing depression. (Source: Mental Health America)
- Childbirth: Changes in hormones after childbirth may result in postpartum depression. This often causes feelings of loneliness, sadness, and lack of connection with your baby. (Source: Office on Women’s Health)
- Substance abuse: Depressant drugs, including alcohol, can trigger feelings of depression in the nervous system. The two work together to create a heightened negative effect on moods and emotions. (Source: Dual Diagnosis) Those with mood disorders are also at a much higher risk for abusing substances than those who do not. (Source: Recovery First)
- Medical conditions: Intense health diagnoses may also increase the risk of developing depression, related to pain and a negative outlook on other illnesses, like cancer, chronic pain, autoimmune conditions, thyroid problems, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis. (Source: Gulf Bend Center)
Many of these causes work together to heighten the effects of depression in an individual. People who experience depression for no reason are often impacted by internal medical changes and environmental factors that do not always provide a reasonable explanation for your symptoms. A triggering life event does not have to occur to be depressed.
What Are the Types of Depression?
Because depression comes in multiple forms, knowing the different types and the symptoms associated with each can help you understand if you are experiencing symptoms. Different types of depression may be caused by unique factors and have nuances that set them apart from other forms.
These are the most common types of depression:
- Major Depressive Disorder (Clinical Depression): This is among the most common mental disorders that can be disabling in severe cases. It is characterized by feelings of sadness, lack of interest in daily life or concentration, and problems with sleeping, eating, and self-esteem. (Source: National Institute of Mental Health) Not all symptoms need to be present to be diagnosed, but they must be present consistently for more than two weeks. These periods of depression are known as episodes.
- Atypical Depression: With some similar symptoms as major depression (sleep patterns, eating, emotional sensitivity, and irritability), this is a common form of depression. It is put into its category because individuals can uniquely improve their mood after positive interactions and events.
- Persistent Depressive Disorder: Also known as dysthymia, this condition is the presence of depression for over two years. The fluctuations in mood can result in major depressive episodes as well as minor symptoms. This is a chronic mental disorder that can be described as a cycle of reoccurring symptoms that last beyond two years. (Source: National Alliance on Mental Illness)
- Reactive Depression: The cases in which depression is brought on by a specific event is known as reactive. This could be deaths, divorces, significant life changes, or other events that have a major negative impact on you.
- Postpartum Depression: Due to its commonality among recently pregnant mothers, postpartum depression is a condition that accompanies intense changes in hormones after childbirth. This condition may last for weeks or more and lead to feelings of sadness.
- Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder: In extreme cases, premenstrual syndrome can be disabling to women due to hormonal changes. Only 5% of women are diagnosed with this disorder. (Source: American Journal of Psychiatry) This will occur regularly before each menstrual cycle and must be debilitating in some way.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder: This form of depression is common with changes in weather, especially lack of sunlight in winter months. It can lead to decreases in mood, changes in sleep, and diet changes.
- Bipolar Disorder: Bipolar disorder is on this list because some cases meet the qualifications for major depression (even though the disorder is different). Formerly referred to as “manic depression,” these mood fluctuations swing high and low in an intense fashion. Their occurrences vary by the individual, and the extremities can lead to dangerous thoughts of suicide when moods shift negatively. (Source: National Institute of Mental Health)
Many of these forms of depression may be difficult to diagnose without specific events occurring. Monitoring your environment and lifestyle choices can help to eliminate unrelated causes and channel your focus onto causes that may be internal or medically induced.
Who is at Risk for a Depression Diagnosis?
No one is immune from depression and its impacts, but some trends identify increased risk factors for the disorder in certain groups. Denoting these groups allows you to identify if you are in one of these groups or what factors may increase the likelihood that you will experience depression at some point in your lifetime.
Many of the causes of and influences on depression result in heightened risk factors that disproportionality impact specific demographics.
The primary groups of people include those that fall into the following categories:
- Chronic Disorders
- Low Socioeconomic Status
- Older Age Groups
At-Risk for Depression: Women
Women are twice as likely to experience depression at some point in their lives than men are. (Source: Anxiety and Depression Association of America) Not only do women experience different stressors than men, but there are specific hormonal differences that bring about unique types of depression. As mentioned, postpartum depression and premenstrual dysphoric disorder are specific to women.
Multiple factors can contribute to the diagnosis of depression in women:
- Pregnancy: Not only do women experience postpartum depression, but miscarriage and stresses related to pregnancy can bring about emotional disorders. Menopause can also play a role in hormonal changes. (Source: March of Dimes)
- Childcare: Additional stresses of raising children (often alongside working) can contribute to increased levels of stress. Traditional gender roles may place increased stress on women for family responsibilities. (Source: American Psychological Association)
- Seeking treatment: Women are also more likely to report feelings of depression and seek resources than men. Men may experience depression at higher rates than the data shows, but this would require a higher rate of reporting. (Source: Psychology Today)
If you are a woman experiencing depression for no reason, consider the risks above. Hormonal changes occur at all stages of female development, so these fluctuations may explain your symptoms.
At-Risk for Depression: Chronic Disorders
Depression can be caused by the presence of other medical conditions, specifically chronic disorders (both physical and mental). With added stress and symptoms of other disorders, it is common for your mood to be impacted, allowing you to experience depressive states.
Depression can be in reaction to or accompany the other illness. The medications being used to treat your illness may also be the cause of your depression. Mood fluctuations and other imbalances may be side effects of your medications. If you notice changes, consider checking with your doctor about the dosage and type of medication you are on.
It is interesting to note that depression diagnoses do not fluctuate significantly among races, especially when diagnosed without the interference of environmental factors that impact specific groups. All races are at risk for depression, with some groups experiencing more than others because of stigmas surrounding reporting and seeking out mental health resources.
Some of the most common disorders and illnesses that accompany depression include:
- Stroke: Changes to the brain are commonly found in the areas that regulate mood and can lead to symptoms of depression. (Source: Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience)
- Heart Disease: Studies show that nearly a quarter of people with cardiac problems have some form of depression. (Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute)
- Cancer: People who are battling through cancer can commonly experience depression due to uncertain outcomes and sadness. (Source: American Cancer Society)
- Chronic pain: With the presence of pain for extended periods, it can often be accompanied by depression as your overall life and daily functioning may be limited. (Source: Mental Health America)
- Thyroid disorders: An underactive thyroid can result in detrimental changes in mood due to hormonal changes. Treatment for hypothyroidism can help alter these feelings. (Source: Harvard Medical School)
If you have another medical condition, especially one that is life-threatening or chronic, you should be aware of the risks associated with developing depression simultaneously. Your medical condition may be worsened by the presence of depression and hard to identify when all your energy is focused on another illness.
At-Risk for Depression: Low Socioeconomic Status
Those who experience poverty, chronic unemployment, and financial instability are at a higher risk of developing depression. These stressors can be very consuming and harm your mental health. While these factors do not cause depression, they are more likely to trigger symptoms that may have gone unnoticed in a more stable living situation.
Socioeconomic status is also closely tied with education level and insurance access. Those with less education and insurance coverage may fall into this category as well. This is not due to intelligence but is tied to levels of achievement and economic opportunity in finding higher-paying jobs with better employments benefits (including better insurance).
Not only do these stressors trigger depressive symptoms, but lack of financial resources can make it significantly more difficult to afford effective treatment methods.
At-Risk for Depression: Older Age Groups
While there are cases of children and adolescents with depressive disorders, most individuals experience depression during adult life. Those ages 45-65 are most likely to experience significant depression, but depressive disorders are experienced in extremes for older age groups. Older individuals can experience late-life depression, which goes largely unreported and without help.
Older adults who experience depression are more likely to act on suicidal thoughts, and these are often associated with their feelings toward their declining physical and mental health and lack of social support systems. (Source: Psychiatric Clinic North America)
If you are an older individual or have people close to you that are, maintaining strong relationships and offering them mental health resources can drastically improve quality of life.
Treatments and Coping Mechanisms for Depression
Despite risk factors or how intense your feelings of depression may be, there is a wide range of treatment methods that have proven successful in helping individuals with their mental disorders. This offers reassurance and solutions for many people who often feel like they cannot escape their condition.
A treatment plan for depression will depend on the type of depression diagnosis and the individual circumstances of one’s condition. Consulting with your doctor will help to determine the best plan.
Treatment methods that have shown to be effective in treating depression include:
- Medication (Pharmacology)
- Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)
- Light Therapy
- Lifestyle Changes
These are the primary treatment categories and are often most effective when used together. Electroconvulsive therapy is a helpful solution for those who do not respond well to medication or therapy. You can also make lifestyle changes and add coping methods to alleviate symptoms in some cases.
Medication for Treating Depression
Antidepressants are often prescribed for those diagnosed with depression. The dosage and brand may need to be adjusted if symptoms are not relieved. Medications take time to kick in and may be accompanied by side effects, but these medications are often a much better solution than leaving depression untreated. (Source: FDA)
Antianxiety or antipsychotic medications may also be prescribed depending on the specificities of your depression. Consulting with and being monitored by a doctor is necessary to determine what medications will be most effective based on your symptoms.
Psychotherapy for Treating Depression
Psychotherapy is used to make behavioral changes and offer coping mechanisms for treating your depression. Meeting with a therapist allows you to talk through your condition and find new ways to approach issues to more effectively combat feelings of depression.
Types of psychotherapy include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy: Identifying behavior patterns and changing them for healthier functioning.
- Dialectical behavior therapy: Change unhealthy behavior through accountability practices.
- Psychodynamic therapy: Looks at past experiences to find explanations for trauma and depression by tapping into the subconscious.
- Animal therapy: Working with animals for support and communication to restore relationships and interpersonal traumas.
- Art therapy: Using artistic outlets to make progress in dealing with depressive thoughts and symptoms. (Source: American Psychiatric Association)
Electroconvulsive Therapy for Treating Depression
When depression disorders are very severe, or a patient does not respond to medication or therapy, stimulating the brain can be useful. ECT is one of these brain stimulation therapies and is among the most common and beneficial. Newer technologies are being developed, but these still need to be studied. (Source: New England Journal of Medicine)
This is only recommended in patients with very intense depressive disorders and those who have already tried other treatment methods. It is a procedure that requires general anesthesia, which is much more invasive than more conventional methods.
Exposure to white light is recommended by doctors to treat depression, especially those who experience seasonal affective disorder. This is often characterized by symptoms of major depression that occur in distinct seasonal patterns. You can receive this treatment in clinics or invest in lights to use at home.
You can also receive light therapy for dealing with insomnia issues, which can increase instances of depression as well. (Source: Sleep Foundation)
Lifestyle Changes and Coping Methods for Depression
Lifestyle changes may help alleviate symptoms of depression, but in many cases, more severe treatment methods are required. If you are experiencing depression without an explanation, first look at making changes in the following categories and see if they have any impact on your mood or emotions. If feelings persist, medical attention should be sought after.
These are the primary categories where changes can be made to impact your mood and functioning positively:
- Exercise: If you have ever experienced the euphoria or happiness achieved after exercising, this is the production of endorphins that trigger mood-altering hormones. Adding exercise into your life can help to produce these hormones for overall improved mood naturally. Regular and frequent exercise (3-5 times per week) can help to regulate mood. (Source: National Health Services)
- Diet: What you put into your body can have a significant impact on how you feel. Eating healthy is one way to improve your mood, but so is incorporating supplements to ensure you are equipped with the proper nutrients. Some of these include St. John’s wort, ginseng, lavender, Omega-3 fatty acids, and 5-HTP. (Source: Medical News Today)
- Sleep: Lack of sleep can lead to alternations in mood and functioning. If you are having trouble sleeping, consider addressing this problem first to see if emotional changes result. (Source: Anxiety and Depression Association of America)
- Limiting drugs and alcohol: Because many substances are depressants, they can contribute to negative thoughts and changes in behavior. Coupled with a medical condition that naturally depresses your mental state, they can hurt your mental health. (Source: National Institute of Drug Abuse)
Seeking Treatment for Depression Without a Reason
You don’t need to have a “reason” to seek treatment and confront feelings of depression. Because of the many factors that contribute to these conditions, depressive disorders can arise without a reasonable explanation to you or others. Going to a doctor will help you to understand your feelings and the underlying medical factors that result in depression.
With the negative stigma surrounding depression, you may be confused or feel there has to be a distinct event or cause to the feelings you are dealing with. Exploring those feelings is crucial, and addressing them by asking for help can take away issues of doubt and allow you to seek treatment when you need it.
Internal and external factors work together in complicated ways that have adverse impacts on the brain. Depression should not be viewed as a reflection on the shortcomings of an individual, but the presence of a medical condition that can be triggered by a variety of internal and external factors.