What Are the Risk Factors for Depression?

Risk factors for depression can increase your likelihood of developing a depressive disorder. Learn the specific risk factors for depression on HealthyPlace.

Risk factors for depression are elements in your life that increase your chances of developing depression. Numerous types of depression risk factors exist. Some are part of the world in which you live, while others are within you. Any single risk factor can make you more susceptible to depression, but the fewer you have, the smaller your chances for being diagnosed with depression. This illness becomes more likely as risk factors accumulate and eventually reach a tipping point. Knowing what the risk factors are for depression can help you avoid or minimize them to nurture your mental health.

A List of the Risk Factors for Depression

To make them easier to understand and manage, depression risk factors can be grouped together into different categories. They include:

  • Medical and/or pharmaceutical risk factors
  • Biochemical aspects
  • Genetic components
  • Personality traits
  • Substance use or abuse issues
  • Social and environmental aspects

Let’s explore each one further to understand how they relate to depression.

A Look at The Depression Risk Factors

Medical conditions sometimes put someone at risk for depression. Diseases such as Parkinson’s or Huntington’s Disease and conditions like stroke can cause chemical changes in the brain that have been linked to depressive disorders. Also, living with serious or chronic illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, cancer, chronic pain, cardiovascular disease, dementia, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, or thyroid disease is stressful in a way that consumes thoughts and feelings and affects behaviors in a way that can give rise to depression. Sleep disorders put people at risk of depression, too.

Taking medications for these or other conditions can be a depression risk. For example, some high blood pressure or sleep medications have been found to increase the risk for depression. If you’re concerned about prescriptions you take, talk with your pharmacist or doctor about your depression risk and whether you need to switch medications. Never stop medication on your own, as doing so can be dangerous.

Biochemical risk factors for depression involve activity in the brain. Neurotransmitters, or chemicals that facilitate electrical signaling (communication) between neurons in the brain, are partially responsible for regulating mood. Having low levels of neurotransmitters, especially dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin is linked to depression.  

Genetics can play a role in depression. If you have a family history of depression, particularly in a first degree relative like a parent or sibling, your risk of developing depression increases. A genetic link doesn’t guarantee that you will get depression, and people without a family history can still develop the illness. Your genetics does influence your likelihood of developing depression when facing other risk factors.

Certain personality traits are considered to be risk factors for depression. First, an important caveat: This does not mean that depression is who you are, or that your nature is why you’re depressed. These are simply traits that have been associated with depression. They’re largely learned and thus can be unlearned. They include pessimism; sensitivity to change, loss, or rejection; low self-esteem; self-criticism; and over-dependence on others. Also, childhood anxiety has been linked to depression later in life.

Substance use or abuse is a risk factor for depression. It can also be an effect of depression. Alcohol and drugs, including prescription medications, affect the brain in ways that influence depression. Substance use or abuse also often negatively affects relationships in ways that might lead to depression. Help is available, and seeking help is a sign of strength and hope for the future.

Social and environmental risk factors are things that you are exposed to in your life. Some of the negative things you experience that sometimes contribute to depression include:

  • Abuse (any type, at any age)
  • Lack of support
  • Stressful life events (death of a loved one, losing a job, divorce, bankruptcy, etc.)
  • Trauma
  • Chronic exposure to violence
  • Long-term poverty

The good thing about depression risk factors is that they can be prevented or minimized. When you’re aware of what might increase your risk of depression, you can counter those risks by building protective factors.

While it’s true that you can’t control some things, there are many things you can. You can build resilience to stress to lessen its impact. You can also create coping skills and do things that deepen your involvement in your community, thus increasing social connection and support. Hone optimism, hope, and positivity. Working with a therapist or reading self-help books and articles can help you in the process of strengthening protective factors for depression.

If you have risk factors for depression, you’re not doomed. They don’t guarantee that you will develop depression.

article references

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2021, December 30). What Are the Risk Factors for Depression?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 22 from

Last Updated: January 9, 2022

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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