What causes depression?

Updated: Sep 02, 2020
  • Author: Louise B Andrew, MD, JD; Chief Editor: Barry E Brenner, MD, PhD, FACEP  more...
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The cause of depression is multifactorial. A family history of depression is common among persons with the disorder, as is a family history of suicides.

In addition to depression, other factors such as alcohol/substance abuse (especially of opiates and cocaine), impulsiveness, and certain familial factors may greatly increase the risk for suicide. These include a past history of mental problems or substance abuse, suicide in the immediate family, family violence of any type, and separation or divorce. [6, 7, 8, 9, 10]

Other risk factors include prior suicide attempt(s), presence of a firearm in the home, incarceration, and exposure to the suicidal behavior of family members, peers, celebrities, or even highly publicized fictional characters. It is also established that the initiation of treatment for depression with psychotherapeutic agents can temporarily increase the incidence of suicidal ideation as well as energizing motivation, and therefore unfortunately can increase the likelihood of successful suicide attempts. The incidence of depression in healthcare workers is comparable to that in the general population, though the rate of completion of suicide is higher. Therefore, healthcare workers diagnosed with depression, especially when coupled with burnout or substance use disorder, should be considered to be a in higher risk category for attempted or completed suicide. 

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