When a person is diagnosed with depression by a medical doctor, he or she is often prescribed antidepressant medications. Based on his training and expertise, this is often the best the doctor can do.
Unfortunately, such drugs often do not address the root causes of the condition. As such, permanent healing usually does not take place and the patients suffer from recurring, even worsening, depressive episodes.
On the other hand, in natural healing, the emphasis is on providing the right circumstances for the body to heal itself. And the first step of that process usually entails identifying the root causes of disease.
Are you one of those plagued by depression with no idea what is actually causing your anguish? The causes discussed here may not be known to your doctor and could shed some light on your condition.
Could it be life circumstances?
Something bad happens, and then depression results, right?
This is partly true. Research has shown that life events such as loss, grief, trauma and conflict play a part in a person becoming depressed.
Yet, depression goes far beyond simply feeling low or experiencing an unhappy event in life. This is easily seen in the fact that not everyone who goes through distressing life events develops depression. There must be more.
How about genes?
Studies have revealed that persons whose family members have been hit by depression have higher risks of developing the mental condition too.
And research carried out by Kendler and Prescott in 1999, which covered almost 4,000 pairs of identical and non-identical twins of both genders, estimated that about 39% of the development of major depression could be attributed or linked to genetic factors.
Thus, there could be genetic factors which increase one’s risk of developing depression, perhaps by lowering one’s ability to deal with events and circumstances one encounters in life.
However, it is necessary to note that family members not only share genes – they also practice similar living and eating habits, as well as have shared life experiences.
And if 39% of the development of depression is influenced by genes, then there would be an estimated 61% which can be attributed to non-genetic causes. Further, not everyone who actually carries the genes associated with depression finally develops the condition.
Thus, in the nature versus nurture argument, it is clear that both play important roles in the development of depression.
How about physical factors other than genes?
Can other physical health conditions be responsible for a person becoming depressed?
The answer is yes, and there is research to show this. For example, Todd Estroff and Mark Gold, two psychiatry experts, revealed that there were over one hundred physical health conditions which could cause or contribute to depression as well as other mental conditions.
Studies also reveal that there are other physical-related issues which can increase one’s risk of depression. These include chemical toxicity in the body, substance abuse, and nutritional deficiencies.
More on these will be touched on below.
Put them all together and…
As we can quite clearly see, like most chronic health conditions, the development of depression is brought about by multiple factors and life circumstances. There is always a combination of causative factors.
Indeed, 1993 research carried out on thousands of identical and non-identical twins at the Medical College of Virginia by Kenneth Kendler et al concluded that major depression “is a multi-factorial disorder, and understanding its etiology will require the rigorous integration of genetic, temperamental, and environmental risk factors.”
Just as no two persons are completely alike, no two depressed persons will display the exact symptoms of depression nor be affected by the same causes of the condition. This applies as well to other diseases like cancer, diabetes, etc.
Syd Baumel’s Mind-Body-Environment Model of Depression
In his book Dealing With Depression Naturally, Syd Baumel discusses a model he developed on how depression comes about. This model encompasses the mind, body and environment aspects of a person; these elements are interconnected and each has a strong influence on the other two.
The Mind Aspect
In terms of the “mind” aspect, Baumel presents three psychological conditions. The first is “discontent”, whereby one feels that something in one’s life is not right or lacking. However, it is almost human nature to be constantly discontented, and this factor alone will not typically lead to depression.
The second psychological condition is “hopelessness”, whereby one feels that a particular problem or issue in life cannot be solved. Common phrases which come to mind here are “lost cause”, “giving up” and “dead end”.
Baumel contends that human beings have the ability to remain sane by learning to accept and live with things which we know we cannot change. Most of us are able to “move on” from events or circumstances. It is only with “irreconciliation”, the third psychological condition, whereby one is neither able to accept, live with nor walk away from an issue, that the seeds of depression could be sown.
The Body and The Environment Aspects
The “body” is also important. A person who is physically unwell or debilitated will find it much harder to deal with psychological issues than one who is physically healthy, strong and energetic. I can attest to this.
If we draw an analogy to physical ailments, we can think of the “body” as the immune system, and the “mind’s undesirable psychological conditions” as, say, a cold virus. The presence of the virus is necessary for the development of a cold, but that alone doesn’t result in a cold – a strong immune system can easily bat it off, while a weak one will be likelier to succumb.
Simply put, a person whose body is not functioning well for whatever reasons, some of which are presented below, will be at higher risk of depression.
How to Treat Depression
Through Baumel’s 3-component model of mind-body-environment, it follows that we can effect recovery from depression, or least attain significant improvement, by tackling or dealing with at least 1 of the 3 aspects. Deal with the root causes, and the health problem dissipates – it’s simple logic.
We can also use remedies and therapies which have overall anti-depressant qualities to help improve the mood of a depressed person.
The more holistic and comprehensive the treatment protocol, the more effective it will be.
Psychological Issues as Contributing Causes of Depression
Unhealthy thought processes can negatively impact our mental health. Very often, discontentment and unhappiness hit us because of values and benchmarks set by our friends, families, religions, cultures, or society as a whole. We sometimes also have unrealistic expectations of ourselves, others and the world.
Low self esteem, lack of life meaning or purpose, learned helplessness – these are some psychological situations which can affect one’s ability to deal with what life throws at us.
Tackling this cause of depression would entail some degree of psychological work, either on one’s own or with a therapist. The idea is to make life “good enough again”.
In a future article, I will touch on some ideas for improving one’s mentality and outlook.
Physical Health Ailments and Diseases Linked to Depression
Research by Roger Kathol and Mark S. Gold et al in 1984 estimated that about 33% to 50% of depressed patients also suffered from a physical ailment which was either a direct cause or a big contributing factor to their mental conditions. The researchers further estimated that about half of these depression cases could be resolved if those physical conditions were properly treated.
There is a string of diseases which could be linked to depression. There are too many to list here, but some could include: a stroke to one’s right brain; a bad knock to one’s head (concussion); gastrointestinal ailments (which lead to poor absorption and nutritional deficiencies); hypothyroidism; hypoglycemia; diabetes; lupus; celiac disease; hyperparathyroidism; Addison’s Disease; Cushing’s syndrome; insomnia; hepatitis; HIV; pneumonia; syphilis; dementia; Parkinson’s disease; multiple sclerosis; anemia; hypertension; arthritis; certain cancers; and others. Read more here.
Could Your Endocrine Glands and Thyroid be Causing Your Depression?
Additional attention must be paid to your endocrine glands, which could be functioning poorly, in particular your thyroid gland. The endocrine glands secrete various hormones which regulate numerous functions in the human body. Healthy glands are thus critical for optimal health.
Hormones secreted by the thyroid are like energy drivers in the body, regulating metabolism. If one is deficient in these hormones, energy levels will drop, and depression can result. Research has found that a significant proportion of depression sufferers are beset by endocrine-related ailments, especially hypothyroidism; other research revealed that 10 to 15% of persons with clinical depression also had mild hypothyroidism.
Other Possible Physical Causes of Depression
Research suggests that the following factors could be possible causative factors behind depression.
* nutritional deficiencies or imbalances arising from unhealthy diets or poor absorption; some important nutrients include the B vitamins (in particular folic acid and vitamin B6), vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc
* certain drug medications
* substance abuse
* chemical intoxication arising from toxins and poisons in our food and living environment
* lack of natural sunlight, for instance during cold dreary winters, when seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can develop
* chemical / neurotransmitter imbalances or deficiencies in the brain (I am personally not inclined to refer to this as a cause of depression. To me, saying that a neurotransmitter imbalance is the cause of depression is a bit like saying lactic acid buildup causes muscle fatigue. The pertinent question is – what caused the lactic acid buildup or the neurotransmitter imbalance / deficiency in the first place? How do we help the body address these deficiencies / imbalances?)
Pinpointing the Physical Causes
Baumel recommends that every person who is suffering from depression should go through a comprehensive medical check-up comprising of three aspects: one’s health history, a physical examination, and finally some laboratory tests.
Health history should include detailed Q&A on one’s medical history, symptoms, work environment, lifestyle, etc. Even if nothing of note is flagged up, the physical examination should still be carried out, as research at the University of Southern California found that out-of-the-ordinary physical discoveries which were not highlighted during the recording of health histories led to the diagnosis of physical diseases in almost a fifth of the psychiatric patients involved in the study. The study added that such physical examinations should last at least 15 to 20 minutes for them to be adequate.
Lab tests would flag out further issues which escaped both earlier procedures. Some useful ones include a blood chemistry analysis, complete blood cell count (CBC), urinalysis, electrocardiogram (ECG), electroencephalogram (EEG), tests for hypothyroidism, tests for nutritional deficiencies, tests for toxicity levels in the body (which could include hair, blood and urine tests), and even brain scans.
To undergo such a comprehensive check-up, not every medical doctor will fit the bill. Baumel suggests that “biologically or medically oriented psychiatrists”, “biopsychiatrists”, or “biobehavioral medical specialists” could be some practitioners you could seek out. A long appointment is probably necessary.
Life Circumstances and Demographics which are Contributing Risk Factors
Research has further suggested that the following life circumstances, events, and demographic profiles are contributing risk factors which could elevate a person’s risk of developing depression.
* previous history of depression
* family history; this is especially so for bipolar disorder or manic depression
* among adults – the young, the middle-aged plus those who are very old have the highest depression risks
* women have a higher risk of developing clinical depression than men – 20-25% in a woman’s lifetime, as compared to 8-12% in men
* young women with lower income
* single mothers, probably because of social isolation and higher stress levels
* hormonal fluctuations in women, especially during particularly sensitive times, such as during puberty, premenstrual, after childbirth (postpartum or postnatal), during menopause or peri-menopause
* persons who are divorced, widowed, or in unhappy marriages
* unmarried persons
* childhood issues, including any kind of abuse (physical, mental, sexual) as a child, or even the loss of a parent during childhood
* high-stress lifestyles
* grief from losing loved ones
* financial hardship or struggles
Summing Up the Causes of Depression
There are surely other possible causes and contributing factors leading to depression which are not covered here, and this cannot be taken as a comprehensive coverage of every single element. Piecing all the information together, though, it does seem quite clear that depression comes about due to a combination of various causative factors, be they related to the mind, body or environment. Nature, i.e. genes, plays a part, as does nurture, i.e. the environment.
Some factors are more in our control than others.
Different factors influence every individual’s depression risk to varying degrees. This, again, applies to all health conditions. While we say “smoking causes lung cancer”, in truth not every smoker develops lung cancer, and not every lung cancer sufferer smokes. We sometimes blame a friend for “passing us the bug”, yet why is it that not every person who came in contact with him or her also caught the bug?
Since depression surfaced because of multiple factors and causes, it makes a lot of sense to try to overcome and heal it with a comprehensive and holistic treatment protocol. In a few upcoming articles, I will touch on some ideas and remedies which could help your recovery and healing.
All in all, if you can highlight and zoom in on the causes of depression which are most affecting you, you will have a much higher chance of attaining healing and becoming a happier person again.