Causes & Risk Factors - PANDAS Foundation UK

Usually, when a person has depression, the specific reason why it developed isn’t known, but sometimes people worry about the causes and risk factors and how they can be reduced. 

We do know some things which may increase the risk of developing depression. Some of these such as our lifestyle we can do something about. 


Understand the causes that might effect Pre and Postnatal Illnesses. 


Information on how genetic might effect your risk of getting Pre and Postnatal Illnesses.


There are many causes and factors that can trigger depression. A factor that might effect  some people are upsetting or stressful life events, such as bereavement, divorce, illness, redundancy and job or money worries can can be the cause.

This is sometimes known as ‘reactive depression’ where depression is a reaction to the event. In other cases, depression does not have an obvious cause.

As depression can have many causes, it is sometimes divided into three broad groups psychological, physical and social. 

  • Psychological
  • Physical or chemical
  • Social
  • Diet and Lifestyle 
  • Psychological

This is where a stressful or upsetting life event causes a persistent low mood, low self esteem and feelings of hopelessness about the future

Physical or chemical

Depression is caused by changes in levels of chemicals in the brain. For example, your mood can change as hormone levels go up and down. This is often seen in women as it is associated with the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, miscarriage, childbirth and the menopause.


Doing fewer activities or having fewer interests can cause depression or may happen because of depression. 

Diet and Lifestyle 

Fuel from your body is very important and if you are not getting enough of the right vitamins and eating a health balance diet can effect your mood and be a cause of depression. 

Take a look at the Self Help Guide by Pandas Foundation on healthy living.

Drinking excess alcohol men should not drink more than three to four units of alcohol a day and women no more than two to tree units a day. A unit of alcohol is roughly the same as half a pint of normal strength lager. 

Using recreational drugs such as cannabis and cocaine can have a major effect on developing depression.

Taking some types of prescription medication for example, propranolol can occasionally cause depression.


Studies have show that if you have a family history of depression you are more likely to get depression yourself. Different versions of a  gene known as 5-HTT can be inherited, which can have an effect on a natural mood-changing chemical in your brain called serotonin. Geneticists found about 20% of people have got what is know as the short version of the 5-HTT gene and it is these people who are more likely to develop depression after a stressful life event.

A link has been found by researchers with depression and a chemical imbalance in the brain called neurotransmitters. A low lower level of certain types of neurotransmitters have been found in people who are depressed. The lower level chemicals are serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. It is not completely clear and understood whether this imbalance is a result of depression, or a cause of it.

Children inherit the 5-HTT gene from their parents, so if their has been a history of depression in the family there is an increase for a risk of developing it. There is a genetic predisposition for depression to be passed on, however many people who have a family history of depression never develop the condition. Also, people with no family history of depression can become depressed.

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