Depression Home > Risk Factors for Depression

Many factors can increase a person's risk of developing depression. For some types of depression, family history appears to play a role. Certain medications can also increase the risk. There are also some medical conditions that increase the risk of depression, including diabetes. In addition, stress and hormonal factors can also increase a person's risk of having depression.

An Overview of Risk Factors for Depression

While scientists are still searching for the exact cause or causes of depression, they do know a number of factors that increase a person's chances of developing depression. These are known as depression risk factors. Some of these risk factors include:


  • Family history
  • Medications
  • Substance abuse
  • Medical illnesses
  • Hormonal factors
  • Stress.


Family History

Some types of depression run in families, which suggests that a biological vulnerability to depression can be inherited. This seems to be the case with bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression). Studies of families in which members of each generation developed bipolar disorder found that those with the illness have a somewhat different genetic makeup than those who do not get ill. However, the reverse is not true.


In other words, not everybody with the genetic makeup that causes a vulnerability to bipolar disorder will have the illness. It seems that additional factors -- possibly stresses at home, work, or school -- are involved in the onset of bipolar disorder.

In some families, major depression also seems to occur generation after generation. However, it can also occur in people who have no family history of depression. Whether inherited or not, major depression is often associated with changes in brain structures or brain function.
Among the people who are prone to depression are those with low self-esteem, those who consistently view themselves and the world with pessimism, and those who are readily overwhelmed by stress. Whether this represents a psychological predisposition or an early form of the illness is not clear.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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