Depression & Anxiety: Causes
What actually triggers anxiety? Is depression really caused by chemical imbalances in the brain? 60% of people in the UK experience anxiety, and that number only drops slightly to 56% for those experiencing at least mild symptoms of depression. So, what causes these extremely common mental health issues?
Anxiety: What is it and what causes it?
Anxiety is a feeling of unease, worry, or fear that everyone experiences from time to time, but for some individuals, it can become more persistent and overwhelming. There is no single cause of anxiety, as it is different for everyone and typically results from various factors including genetics, environmental stress, and personality. These are some common factors that can contribute to the development of anxiety:
Family history can play a role in the development of anxiety disorders. If you have close relatives with anxiety, you may have a higher risk of experiencing it yourself.
Imbalances in neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the brain) can contribute to anxiety. Specifically, imbalances in serotonin, dopamine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) have been linked to anxiety disorders.
Certain personality traits, such as being overly self-critical, having a tendency to worry, or being highly sensitive to other's opinions, can make individuals more prone to experiencing anxiety.
Experiencing significant stress or trauma, such as the loss of a loved one, a major life change, or exposure to a dangerous, new or threatening situation can trigger anxiety.
Chronic health issues, especially those that cause pain or interfere with daily functioning can lead to anxiety symptoms.
Alcohol, drugs, and even excessive caffeine use can cause anxiety or trigger anxiety attacks in some people.
Negative thought patterns, excessive worry, and irrational beliefs about ourselves and the world can contribute to the development or worsening of anxiety. These are usually influenced by upbringing and significant life events.
Adverse childhood experiences such as abuse, neglect, or significant stress, can have a lasting impact on mental health and increase the risk of anxiety in adulthood.
Major life transitions, such as moving, starting a new job, or going through a divorce, can be stressful and trigger anxiety.
Hormonal fluctuations, such as those that occur during pregnancy, menopause, or with certain medical conditions, can influence anxiety levels.
Depression: What is it and what causes it?
Depression is a common mental health issue that affects millions of people worldwide. It may have many causes, and new research shows that "chemical imbalances" may not be one of them. In fact, depression may not happen because there is anything "wrong" with people, but as a normal (albeit unhelpful) response to different factors.
The DSM-5 (one of the books used by psychiatrists when diagnosing disorders) states that the criteria for clinical depression include:
Depressed mood most of the day.
Diminished interest or pleasure in almost all activities.
Significant weight loss/gain or a decrease/increase in appetite.
Insomnia or excessive sleeping.
Observable restlessness or slowed movements.
Fatigue or loss of energy.
Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt.
Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness.
Recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal ideation, or suicide attempts.
To this day, we cannot say for sure what causes depression, or even why antidepressants (can) work. It may be a complex mixture of neurochemistry, biology, and life circumstances. But, regardless of the cause, feeling as though something is "wrong" with us can make us feel even worse. In most cases, those who are depressed have a reason to be, even if they aren't totally conscious of it. However, it is important to know that depression, even if it feels like it, does not last forever, and research on new treatments is always ongoing. Counselling is a researched and effective way to break the cycle of depression and improve people's quality of life. The below are some factors that may contribute to the onset and maintenance of depression, many of which counselling can help with.
Brain Chemistry & Biology
Despite the above, although studies are yet to find irrefutable proof that certain chemicals in the brain cause depression, they (and the structure of some people's brains) may still play a part. The jury is still out on exactly what, and how, though.
Life events and external stressors can act as triggers for depression. Experiencing significant life changes, such as loss of a loved one, divorce, job loss, or financial hardships, can overwhelm coping mechanisms and lead to depression.
Early life experiences can profoundly impact mental health. Childhood trauma, abuse, neglect, or adverse events can leave lasting emotional imprints and increase the risk of developing depression in adulthood.
Prolonged exposure to stress, whether from work, academic pressures, or interpersonal conflicts, can have a cumulative effect on mental well-being. Chronic stress can eventually deplete emotional resilience, contributing to depressive symptoms.
Unhelpful Thinking Patterns
Our thought patterns significantly influence how we perceive ourselves and the world around us. Negative thinking, self-criticism, and a pessimistic outlook can exacerbate depression and perpetuate feelings of hopelessness.
Physical health and mental well-being are intertwined. Chronic health conditions, chronic pain, or long-term illnesses can take a toll on emotional health and contribute to the development of depression.
Substance abuse can lead to or worsen depression. Misusing drugs, alcohol, or other substances may provide temporary relief from emotional distress but often exacerbates depressive symptoms in the long run.