A Generation for the Cultural Mission - A Unique Life Filled with Wisdom

Answers to Major Depression (1): Factors Contributing to Depression – “Heart-to-Heart: Loving Community” Series

Dr. Agnes Ip, PhD., LMFT

According to a recently released report by the CDC based on data from 2020, about 18.4% of adults have suffered from depression (Major Depressive Disorder) at some point in their lives, and among them more females have reported having depression than males. With the effects brought about by the pandemic since 2020, we believe that today the percentage is even higher.

What causes depression? Does depression run in the family?

Similar to all other mental disorders, causes of major depression remain unknown to us. There can be multiple factors that contribute to the onset of the illness, such as biological differences, changes in brain chemistry, hormonal issues, genetic factors, stress and life circumstances, etc.

Based on what we know from research, symptoms of depression can result from an imbalance of neurotransmitters in our brain, or hormonal changes. Examples include women suffering from postpartum depression due to hormonal imbalance and people with thyroid issues experiencing physical and emotional problems. Chances of getting depression also increase if family members or blood-related relatives are diagnosed with depression. Overwhelming life pressures, or emotional trauma including loss of loved ones, divorce, broken relationships, health or financial problems, loss of jobs, can all contribute to depression. Symptoms of depression include negative thinking, strong sense of helplessness, loss of energy and strength, feeling trapped in the darkness and seeing no way out. 

Difficulties adjusting to different stages of life transitions can also be a trigger, such as overwhelming stress preparing for college entry, adjustments to college life, or the emotional disturbance to women during the postpartum period, menopause or facing an empty nest. Having family members with mental illnesses, or personal traumatic past experiences such as childhood or sexual abuses, would also definitely increase the chance of getting depression. Another scenario is related to multiple mental disorders. For instance, when someone was traumatized in the past and is still suffering from PTSD, any difficulty in life can easily trigger the onset of depression. Behind alcohol or drug addictions, the root cause can be depression. Unfortunately the addictive behaviors can create more life difficulties and emotional issues, which becomes a vicious cycle.

Genetic factors play an important role in depression. Generally speaking, if family members are diagnosed with depression, one fifth of the family may also suffer from depression. An experiment involving identical twins showed that when one of the twins has depression, there is a 46% chance that the other twin will have it also. We can see that although genetic factors may not necessarily be the key reason for having depression, its impact cannot be overlooked.

*The content of this article was adapted from Dr. Agnes Ip’s interview with “Hear and See” organization


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