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Risk Factors

Depression can be caused by a combination of factors related to our biochemistry, genetics, personality, environment, and major life events.

Older adult woman looking forlorn out of a window, holding a coffee mug.


Depression can run in families. For example, if one identical twin has depression, the other has a 70 percent chance of having the illness sometime in life.


Differences in certain chemicals in the brain may contribute to symptoms of depression.


People with low self-esteem, who are easily overwhelmed by stress, or who are generally pessimistic appear to be more likely to experience depression.


Continuous exposure to violence, neglect, abuse, or poverty may make some people more vulnerable to depression.

Stressful events

Major life changes that happen as we get older may cause feelings of uneasiness, stress, and sadness. For example, the death of a loved one, moving from work into retirement, or dealing with a serious illness can leave people feeling sad or anxious. After a period of adjustment, many older adults regain their emotional balance, but others do not and may develop depression.

NOTE: Sleeping problems can worsen depression. To prevent serious depressive episodes, try to keep a regular sleep schedule and skip daytime naps.