Are You at Risk for Depression?

Are you at risk for clinical depression? Knowing what factors increase your risk of having major depression may help you get the best medical help when you need it. Depression treatment is most effective early on.

What Are the Risk Factors for Depression?

There are a number of significant risk factors for depression that you should be aware of:

  • Genetics. A family history of depression may increase your risk. It's thought that depression is sometimes passed genetically across generations. The exact way this happens, however, is not clear.
  • Death or loss. Normal sadness or grief from the death or loss of a loved one is usually a normal reaction, but sometimes such enormous stresses can lead to symptoms of clinical depression (such as thoughts of suicide or pervasive feelings of worthlessness) in people who have a biological vulnerability to depression.
  • Sadness or grief from the death or loss of a loved one can trigger symptoms of major depression.
  • Conflict. Personal conflicts or disputes with family members or friends may lead to depression in people with the biological vulnerability to depression.
  • Abuse. Past physical, sexual, or emotional abuse can be a risk factor for developing clinical depression.
  • Major events. Even good events, such as moving or graduating, can put you at risk for becoming clinically depressed. Other events that increase risk include changing jobs, losing a job or income, getting married or divorced, retiring.
  • Serious illnesses. Sometimes depression co-exists with a major illness or is a reaction to the illness.
  • Certain medications. Depression can be a side effect of a medication you take for another condition.
  • Substance abuse. Nearly 30% of people with substance abuse problems also have major depression. Some people with depression misuse substances when they feel bad, while for others, heavy use of alcohol or illicit substances can cause symptoms of depression.
  • Other personal problems. Problems such as social isolation due to other mental illnesses or being cast out of a family or social group can lead to depression.

How Can I Know my Risk for Depression?

Talk to your doctor about your personal risk for depression. You can also measure your risk factors for depression with WebMD's tool Rate Your Risk for Depression.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on September 23, 2016



American Academy of Family Physicians: "Depression in Older Adults: What it is and how to get help."

National Institute on Aging: "Don't Let the Blues Hang Around."

National Institute of Mental Health: "Depression: What Every Woman Should Know."

American Psychiatric Association.

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-IV-TR, American Psychiatric Pub, 2000.

Fieve, R, MD. Bipolar II, Rodale Books, 2006.

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