Risk Factors for Depression

A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of getting a disease or condition.

It is possible to develop depression with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing depression. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your healthcare provider what you can do to reduce your risk.

Your risk of depression may be related to a combination of genetic, physical, psychological, and environmental factors. These include:

Family History of Mental Illness

People with a family history of depressive disorders tend to be at increased risk of developing depression.

Chronic Physical or Mental Disorders

In recent years, researchers have found that physical changes in the body can be accompanied by mental changes. Medical illnesses such as stroke, heart attack, cancer, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, and hormonal disorders can increase the risk of depression. Chronic pain is known to be associated with depression.

A history of one or more previous episodes of depression significantly increases the risk of a subsequent episode.

Major Life Changes and Stress

A stressful change in life can trigger a depressive episode. Such stressful events may include a serious loss, a difficult relationship, trauma, or financial problems.

Little or No Social Support

Having few or no supportive relationships can increase the risk of depression in both men and women. However, rates of depression have been found to be higher in women who are at home with young children, and those who describe themselves as isolated, compared to women who are working or have a supportive social network. In many cases, restricted social networks have been found to precede the onset of depression.

Psychological Factors

Certain psychological factors put people at risk for depression. People with low self-esteem, who consistently view themselves and the world with pessimism, or who are readily overwhelmed by stress, may be prone to depression.

Other psychological factors, such as perfectionism and sensitivity to loss and rejection, may increase a person’s risk for depression. Depression is also more common in people with chronic anxiety disorders and borderline and avoidant personality disorders.

Low Socioeconomic Status

Being in a low socioeconomic group is a risk factor for depression. This may be due to factors such as perceived low social status, cultural factors, financial problems, stressful environments, social isolation, and greater daily stress.

Female Gender

Women experience depression about twice as often as men. Hormonal factors may contribute to the increased rate of depression in women, particularly such factors as premenstrual changes, pregnancy, miscarriage, postpartum period, premenopause, and menopause. Many women face additional stresses, such as responsibilities at work and home, single parenthood, and caring for children and aging parents.


The elderly are at a particularly high risk for depression. Furthermore, they are notoriously undertreated for depression. Depression is a disorder at any age and deserves serious treatment.


Black Americans are less likely than whites to develop depression, but when they do, it is often more chronic and severe. They are also less likely to get treatment for depression.

Insomnia, Sleep Disorders

Chronic sleep problems are strongly associated with depression and should be treated to avoid complications.


Certain medications have been implicated in depression, including:


Abnormal Psychology and Modern Life. 11th edition. Allyn and Bacon; 2000.

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 4th ed. Text Revision. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association; 2000.

Depression. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/healthinformation/depressionmenu.cfm. Accessed March 24, 2007.

National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/.

Williams DR, Gonzalez HM, Neighbors H, et al. Prevalence and distribution of major depressive disorder in African Americans, Caribbean Blacks, and Non-Hispanic Whites. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2007;64:305-315.

Last reviewed April 2007 by Janet Greenhut, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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