I don’t know about you, but I’ve struggled with clinical depression for more than 25 years. It is a mean-spirited and nasty little cuss of a disorder. Depression has cost me friendships, job opportunities, even a marriage.
If you’re reading this, I’ll bet you can relate.
One of the worst things about depression is how poorly understood it is by the public. This includes the folks in your life who are trying to support you. And yes, even the people who suffer from it.
In fact, if you ask anyone what the causes of depression are, you’ll probably get a bunch of different answers. Have you ever heard any of these before?
- Well actually, clinical depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.
- No, it’s actually a reaction to childhood trauma.
- The real culprit is how you think about things. Negativity makes you depressed.
- It’s a genetic trait, like hair color. You’re just born with it.
Some will even tell you that it’s just something you have to “get over,” like it’s a cold.
All these competing theories a big problem, too. They increase the chance of you getting bad advice about how to effectively deal with your depression.
So, who’s right? Who’s wrong?
The truth is, they’re all right. And they’re all wrong.
What You’ll Learn In This Post
We need to have a honest conversation about the hidden causes of depression. Because if you want to manage your depression, you need to know where it’s coming from.
And while I can’t tell you the specific source of your depression, I can expose some of the more common culprits. You see, every day I see clients who suffer from Major Depressive Disorder. And every day, I hear the same things day in and day out.
But before we get into all that, let’s all get on the same page about depression. We’ll start by defining the term.
What Is Major Depressive Disorder?
Major Depressive Disorder is the clinical term for depression. It’s a baffling and dangerous condition that causes persistent feelings of sadness, depressed mood, and a loss of interest in activities that you once found pleasurable.
It warps your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. In short, depression impairs your ability to function.
According to the DSM5, the following symptoms are commonly associated with Major Depression:
- Feelings of emptiness, worthlessness, or hopelessness
- Irritability, anger, and frustration, even over insignificant matters
- Loss of interest in most activities, such as sex or hobbies
- Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
- Lack of energy and fatigue
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Psychomotor agitation or retardation
- Anxiety and restlessness
- Trouble thinking, concentrating, and remembering things
- Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, or suicide attempts
- Unexplained somatic (physical) problems, such as back pain or headaches
How Common Is Depression?
In the United States, Major Depressive Disorder affects more than 16 million adults. It accounts for two-thirds of all suicides and is the number one cause of disability and disability claims. It also costs businesses over 100 billion dollars annually in terms of lost productivity.
It’s an indirect factor in a host of other problems as well, including failing marriages, domestic violence, absenteeism at work, poor school performance, child abuse, and alcoholism.
The worst part? Major Depressive Disorder is becoming more common, not less. Nationwide, the number of people attempting or completing suicide is increasing, not decreasing. The economic burden of depression is growing heavier, not lighter.
7 Hidden Causes of Depression
Medications help, but they’re only part of the story. If you’ve been treated for Major Depressive Disorder and you’re still depressed, it is often a result of one or more of the following 7 things:
1. You Have Toxic Belief Systems
It’s time for a cold hard truth. Your beliefs are causing you major problems.
I’m not talking about your thoughts, which are often fleeting. You’re also aware of them, which makes them easier to dispute, especially with professional help
Beliefs, on the other hand, are a different kind of animal. Often we don’t even realize they exist in the first place. Even less often do we feel the need to challenge them. Yet there they are, exerting an enormous amount of influence on our mood.
Beliefs are convictions that the ideas we have in our head are true. We all have them. Most are harmless. But many are not.
The thing about belief systems is that they skew our perception of reality — of ourselves, of other people, of the world in which we live. And if you’re still depressed, you need to examine yours.
- People can’t be trusted.
- The world is unsafe.
- God has abandoned me.
- I will be betrayed.
We don’t talk enough about the dangers of belief systems. Beliefs, after all, are sacred. To question a person’s beliefs is to invite scorn and anger.
But toxic belief systems are the foundation of many mental illnesses, including depression.
If you are still depressed, you simply must be willing to challenge your beliefs. All of them. Political. Social. Self. Interpersonal. Religious. Leave no stone unturned.
2. Your Diet is Making You Fat, Depressed, and Miserable.
Americans have a dysfunctional relationship with food.
We can’t help it. We’ve been bombarded with advertisements about junk food since we were in diapers.
So, is an unhealthy diet the reason you’re still depressed? Not entirely. But it’s definitely not helping.
The research about the relationship between gut bacteria and mental health is clear. What we eat affects how we feel. If you want to steer clear from depression, you need to watch out for the following:
- Processed foods;
- Soft drinks of any kind;
- Simple carbohydrates (anything with sugar, including fruit);
- Refined carbohydrates such as flour and white bread;
- Foods high in trans fats (e.g., fast food);
- Aspartame (an artificial sweetener found in things like Diet Coke).
You have to make a choice. Do you want to feel better, or do you want to eat junk?
You can’t eat junk food and expect to feel better. That is literally a case of having your cake and eating it too.
Stick to lean meats, nuts and legumes, multi-grain bread, vegetables, and “good fats” such as the kind found in cheese. Use depression-fighting herbs like turmeric when you prepare foods.
And water. Drink lots and lots of water. It should be the main liquid you consume.
Author’s Note: Talk with your doctor before making any changes to your diet).
3. You Don’t Get Enough Exercise
Depressed people don’t exercise. This is not a coincidence.
As with diet, the research on depression and exercise is clear. It helps. A lot.
Low-impact cardiovascular exercise helps boost your mood. Of course, there is nothing wrong with lifting weights provided you are physically able to do so.
The point here, though, is that you don’t have to spend two hours in the gym every day. Twenty minutes of brisk walking every day will do the job just fine.
If that’s too much, start at three times a week and work your way up.
It’s tough to exercise when you feel like you have no energy. Your bed is so inviting.
But depression lies. Convincingly and with gusto. Don’t listen to it. It will tell you to do things that will keep you sick. Isolate. Avoid exercise. Eat junk.
Don’t listen to a word it says. If you are still depressed, you need to start moving.
To be blunt — you can lie on the couch all day and feel terrible or you can commit to an exercise plan and reap the rewards of doing so. What you can’t do is lie on the couch all day and expect your mood to change. It won’t.
4. You Work at a Job You Hate
Perhaps your job is tedious and boring. Maybe you hate your boss. It might be a case of low pay and poor benefits. It could be high-stress. It could be a toxic work culture. If I’m being honest, your attitude might suck, too. It’s probably a combination of these things.
Either way, you are faced with a choice. Stay sick, or make a change. There is no third option.
While it is true that searching for jobs can be nerve-wracking and stressful, it is also true that the dynamics at work that you hate will never, ever change.
Let me caution you, though, that you might actually be the problem. If your attitude needs an adjustment, you’ll be unhappy no matter where you go.
It might not be your attitude. Perhaps you take things personally. Perhaps you have poor boundaries. Perhaps you lack social skills. Whatever the reason, look inward and work on yourself. As with some of these other points, it’s best to enlist the services of a licensed mental health professional.
5. You Have Toxic and Unhealthy Relationships
People tend to seek therapy in order to deal with people in their lives that should be in therapy but refuse to go.
Relationships are, without a doubt, the biggest source of frustration, anxiety, and depression in your life.
Life is nothing but relationships. You have one with your partner. You have one with your kids. You have one with your boss, your neighbor, your pastor, your friends.
People exert enormous influence on one another. Healthy people tend to promote healthiness and toxic people tend to promote toxicity.
Take a moment to think about the most influential people in your lives. With whom do you spend the most time? Whom do you listen to most? How many of them add value to your life? How many of them drag you down?
Family members are some of the worst offenders. People tend to have a never-say-die attitude about family, but toxic family dynamics are a huge causal factor in the development of Major Depressive Disorder.
It’s harsh, but we often have to change the way we prioritize family members in our lives. We don’t have a choice. You can’t expect to interact with toxic people and have them not affect your mood.
That’s just unrealistic. If you’ve tried medication and you’re still depressed, take a good look at your relationships.
6. You Don’t Contribute To Society
Altruism is the selfless concern for the well-being of others. It’s why people volunteer at homeless shelters and teach Sunday School.
Research shows that acts of altruism (e.g., volunteering) are extraordinarily beneficial for your own mental health. It reduces stress and improves physical health as well.
The bottom line? People who contribute to society feel better about themselves.
People need purpose. We need to feel like we matter. Volunteering and service work meet that need in a way that work often cannot. Depression makes people feel helpless, worthless, and hopeless. Go and volunteer if you’re still depressed. Go show your depression that it’s wrong.
And that leads me to my final point.
7. You Feel Disconnected From Your World
Whether it is real or perceived, loneliness, isolation, and disconnection are often the reason you’re still depressed.
The foundation of everything from drug addiction and alcoholism to major depression is disconnection. Humans are social animals. We are not meant to live in isolation. We need connections.
Do you feel alone? Misunderstood? Cast aside? Abandoned?
That’s what disconnection feels like.
Do you isolate? Do you self-medicate with food or drugs? Do you avoid social situations and are you plagued by thoughts of suicide?
That’s what disconnection feels like.
Suicide is the ultimate form of disconnection. Perhaps that’s why so many depressed people consider suicide as an option.
Don’t underestimate the importance of this point. Disconnection is a killer.
Watch this video. It’s a TED Talk given by a journalist named Johann Hari.
Think about what he has to say. Does it describe you? And if it does, what are you willing to do about it?
If you are taking a prescription medication and it’s working then keep taking it. If you are in therapy and its helping then keep going.
But if you’re still depressed, you need to realize that recovery from depression requires action and change.
There is no such thing as a pill that fixes a crappy life, or a failing relationship, or a job you hate.
Medication can help, but it’s unlikely to solve the problems that pulled you into depression in the first place. Only you can do that.
If you struggle with depression, consider the benefits of psychotherapy. Studies have shown over that therapy is an excellent way to reduce feelings of depressed mood, worthlessness, and suicidal ideation.
You can visit Psychology Today to search for a list of providers in your area. Or, consider the affordability and convenience of online counseling.
I have used and tested two of the more popular options, Online-Therapy.com and BetterHelp (sponsored). Both services offer reduced rates for new members. I had excellent experiences with both. You get your very own licensed therapist. They are available by phone, video, or chat.
- Helping people, changing lives: The 6 health benefits of volunteering
- Regular Walking Can Help Ease Depression
- The 7 Worst Foods for Your Brain
- Causes of Depression
- Depression (major depressive disorder)
- The Definitive Guide to Online Counseling
- What you Should Know About Major Depression
- How to Get out of Depression – a Guide to Psychotherapy
- Upgrade Your Bedroom, Improve Your Sleep: How to Facilitate Quality Rest and Relaxation at Home
Online Therapy Helps.
Take this free quiz to see if you struggle with depression. Then, get matched with a licensed therapist via video, phone, or text-based chat. Plans start at $60/week. Take 10% off with our link.