If you are plagued with depression there are two things you should know; it’s not your fault and there are things you can do to help yourself.  This article will discuss how depression develops; future articles will outline modes of therapy and what you can do on your own to defeat depression.

Although scientists estimate that there is a 40-70% genetic component to the cause of depression, this component only controls a person’s vulnerability to experience depressive episodes.  There must also be environmental factors involved for depression to occur.

Environmental causes of depression can be such things as family relationships, socio-economic status, the ability of family members to cope with stress, uncontrollable events and parenting style.  Experiences in the home environment can teach either helpful or maladaptive ways of problem solving and coping with stress.  As a child you had no control over your environment or genetic make-up so in that sense you had no control over whether you became vulnerable to depression.

If one or more of your caregivers had good coping skills and either modeled or taught you those skills, a minor bout of depression would most likely have remained a minor event.  If your parents did not have good coping skills or modeled negative thinking, you probably learned those bad habits.  Then when confronted with negative events or disappointment you were more likely to experience deeper and more prolonged episodes of depression.

Additionally, if you experienced negative events repeatedly and you reacted in the same harmful way to each event it is possible that the response will become habitual.  Just the way a child learns a skill by repeating it over and over, the child can also learn negative ways of thinking and reacting to disappointment.  This is how depression can become a learned response.

 Negative thinking is the most common harmful response to sadness and disappointment, and its effect is to keep you mired in depression.  Often these negative thoughts are unconscious because you have learned this way of reacting to bad events.

You didn’t plan it, you didn’t do anything wrong, but now you have to deal with the consequences.  There are many ways to get help for depression; psychotherapy, medications, and self-help programs can all help you take control of your moods.  Just as you can learn a bad habit, you can learn to replace it with a good one through conscious work and practice.  Please see my other articles for instruction in  the techniques that can help you fight back against depression.


Dobson, Keith S., and Dozois, David J. A., eds. Risk factors in depression.  Boston, Elsevier. 2008