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Are there triggers for depression?

It seems the word trigger can be a trigger in and of itself, and no wonder – reports have revealed that up to 10% of American adults live with depression, as a result of stress, negative life events, medication, genetics, dysfunction in the brain, or yes, a host of a variety of triggers.


Depression isn’t selective; it can hit even the seemingly “happiest” of people. It doesn’t always come on from stress or trauma, although negative events can exacerbate it. Sometimes it’s situational, and other times, it’s chemical. In some cases, it’s both.


But what can trigger depression, or its relapse?


Here are some depression triggers.


Stress. One of the biggest and most major causes of depression is psychological stress (or even physical stress that has become so severe it manifests psychologically). Stress, when severe, causes chemical changes in people, and in fact, 70% of depressed people report such hormonal changes. Typical regulation of moods, emotions and feelings are impacted and disrupted, especially with the release of cortisol. Cortisol release results in physical changes to our brains and may even alter the size of the hippocampus (which has been found to be smaller in individuals who have depression).


Grief. Loss of a loved one, or the experience of an end of something, is certainly a trigger of depression. At initial onset, it’s not always possible to diagnose grief as depression, because sadness is a typical response to loss.


However, when the sadness doesn’t seem to lift, or if the severity and duration seems atypical for the individual in regard to how they would have been expected to handle the grief, it may be time to seek the advice of a professional. Grief looks different for everyone, but it can result in anger, anxiety, sleep challenges, altered heart rate or blood pressure, or depression.


There’s actually a name for prolonged grief – it’s sometimes known as complicated grief. Sadness is normal, especially after loss, but when the sadness has become too much to bear, it’s likely it’s crossed over into depression.  


Rumination. When a person dwells on a negative life event, it can be a downward spiral for the person. It could be that they can no longer cope with the circumstance and thinking about it is actually interfering with their day-to-day life.


How do you know if you’re ruminating or just a thinker? If you continually think things like, “Why does this always happen to me?” or “This is the worst thing ever, and it’s because of me. I deserve it,” you may be exaggerating the negative, causing, worsening or deepening depression.


Physical illness. Up to 15% of depression cases are caused by illness, and the reciprocal relationship between a physical and mental illness is proven. Depression can slow down recovery, and the illness can cause deep sadness, which can result in clinical depression.


Insomnia or lack of sleep. Lack of sleep can increase the risk of developing depression, and it can worsen depression for people who already have it. Studies have shown that when a person sleeps six hours or less, depression risk can actually rise; when a person sleeps five hours or less, the chances of developing depression can double.




Other things, like financial worries or substance abuse, can trigger depression too. It’s important for individuals to be aware of what can cause a relapse, so that they can begin to take steps toward appropriate action. Depression is as serious as any physical illness, and sometimes even more so.

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