What causes depression?

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated February 16, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Depression is a mental health condition that some individuals find difficult to recognize. You may feel depressed without completely understanding the reason why. This confusion could stem from the variance in causes for depression. What causes depression? In some cases, the causes could be combined or built upon each other.

Can poor nutrition cause depression?

Studies are still being done to determine how poor nutrition contributes to depression. Some researchers, like Dr. Julia Rucklidge, have found close ties between the quality of food you consume and mental well-being.

Other recent studies have also found a link between certain foods and depression. This research demonstrates that changing your diet to include healthy, nutrient-rich foods may help you alleviate some depression symptoms.

Are you noticing symptoms of depression in you or a loved one?

Can lack of sleep cause depression?

Lack of sleep is often considered to be a sign of depression. Excessive sleeping and insomnia can be critical factors in determining whether someone is experiencing major depressive disorder. Knowing this, you might think that sleep deprivation would be a symptom rather than a cause.

However, lack of sleep can cause depression symptoms to worsen. It’s unclear whether sleep deprivation issues can cause depression on their own. Still, sleep issues have the potential to cause a depressive state that you’re already experiencing to become worse.

Practicing healthy sleep hygiene habits can be critical to your mental and physical health. If you’re experiencing sleep problems, take the time to reach out to a professional for support. There are changes that you can make to potentially get your sleep schedule back on track.

Can birth control cause depression?

Mood changes are a possible side effect of some birth control. For some individuals, this can lead to a diagnosis of depression. Some decide to stop taking birth control due to emotional side effects. The risk of depression as a side effect of birth control can be minor but may be something to consider when choosing a birth control method.

If you recently started taking a new type of birth control and have been diagnosed with depression, discuss this with your prescribing doctor. Your birth control may need to be changed or adjusted. Additionally, you might be able to work with your doctor to find methods for improving your mental well-being. 


Can stress cause depression?

Numerous studies have identified stress as one of the principal causes of depression. You might find that stress compounds over time and causes various symptoms, such as physical pain or lasting sadness. 

Certain types of stress might be acting as depression triggers for you. Depression triggers are often defined as activities or situations that cause a depressive response. Triggers may include a challenging task at your job or conflict with someone you love. 

Working with a therapist may help you develop coping mechanisms for stress, such as mindfulness and breathing exercises, and start recognizing depression triggers. It might also be possible to learn how to avoid these problems to prevent yourself from falling into a depressive state in the future. 

Can drugs and alcohol cause depression?

Depression can be common among those experiencing an addiction to substances. Around one-third of people with depression also experience substance use disorder. Some individuals may turn to substance use to manage feelings of pre-existing depression. However, substance use can also intensify or trigger feelings like hopelessness, loneliness, anxiety, or sadness.

Additionally, substance use may cause depression to worsen. If you’re experiencing depression and are prone to using substances when feeling down, seek support. Your doctor may assist you with any physical symptoms, and a therapist may help you overcome any challenging mental processes.  

If you are using substances or considering them and want immediate support, consider reaching out to the SAMHSA National Helpline (Substance Use) at (800) 662-4357 to speak to someone knowledgeable about substance use and addiction. 

Can physical health issues cause depression?

Studies have shown that physical health issues can cause depression in some patients. Noticing your condition worsen or feeling as if you can’t do what you used to do may cause you to experience symptoms of depression. 

Depression may also be a symptom of some physical diagnoses. For example, thyroid disorders and liver disease can cause depression or mood changes. If you have a family history of these conditions, monitor your symptoms with your doctor. 

Are you noticing symptoms of depression in you or a loved one?

Can grief or loss cause depression?

Losing a loved one or experiencing grief are potential causes of depression. Grief may be a form of situational depression, as it may not be caused by a chemical imbalance, as many types of depression are. 

Feeling down and lost after losing someone close to you can be completely normal. You may also experience these feelings after a breakup or other type of non-death-related loss. 

Symptoms of grief may also mirror those of depression. If grief does not subside, it may turn into long-term major depression. While in mourning, you could experience trouble sleeping and might not be able to maintain an appetite. 

Many people who are going through a loss will enter a period of severe depression. If you are grieving, reach out to your support system and try to practice self-care in this challenging time.

Treatment for depression 

Try to reach out for support as soon as you notice symptoms of depression. A doctor or therapist can provide support if you are struggling.

Although the list above provides some potential causes or effects of depression, other causes may not be listed. If you’re struggling to leave home or connect with a new therapist in person, you might appreciate the convenience of online counseling. A licensed online therapist may teach you techniques to manage your symptoms and learn about the causes of your depression. 

Studies have shown that online cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is effective in treating the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Another review of 17 studies found that CBT online may be more effective than in-person therapy and is generally more cost-effective.

Online therapy can be a convenient way to learn more about depression and its symptoms. If you’re ready to sign up, consider reaching out to a counselor through a platform such as BetterHelp.


There can be several causes of depression, and you may experience more than one at once. If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, consider reaching out for support as soon as possible. A counselor is just one method available to you, and your counselor may help you determine the proper treatment techniques for your depression.

Depression is treatable, and you're not alone
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
You don't have to face depression aloneGet started