What Causes Depression: Behavioral Causes

Over 16% of Americans experience clinical depression at some point during the course of their lives. Numerous recent studies have shed light on some of the biological factors that make someone predisposed to becoming depressed. But not everyone with these genetic markers have depression. Environmental and behavioral factors dictate whether those latencies manifest during the course of one’s life. Below is a partial list of potential behavioral causes of depression, paired with their behavioral solutions.

Not having rewarding experiences: This can take numerous forms. Sometimes people experience a significant loss, such as the loss of a loved one, or losing a valued role at work. Without replacing the old source of reward with something new, people are significantly more likely to become depressed. Loss of reward can also take the form of not engaging in many rewarding activities. By not having enjoyable hobbies, going out with friends, or engaging in work that one finds meaningful, it is difficult to maintain an upbeat mood. Finally, not engaging in self-reward, such as praising oneself or treating oneself for a job well done also falls into this category. The solution for all of these causes is to gradually and consistently increase behaviors that have the potential for reward. On the surface this may seem like an easy fix, but it can be hard to find the motivation to expend energy when you are depressed. Luckily there is a cognitive behavioral treatment designed expressly for this purpose, called behavioral activation.

Not using problem-solving skills: When you encounter problems you feel you’re helpless to solve, you may be more vulnerable to depression. The more passive you become in the face of problems, the less likely it is that they will get solved. If your habit is to feel problems are hopeless and not do anything to solve them, you will end up leading a life in which you very seldom get what you want. The remedy is to change your orientation to problems, from being the victim of problems to being the solver of problems. If something doesn’t go right at work, brainstorm solutions and commit to one. If you don’t appreciate the way someone is treating you, assertively let them know and ask for what you want. If you don’t know the answer to a question, research the answer. Confronting difficult situations head-on with solutions is generally a more effective way of coping with them.

Changing Circumstances: The one thing that is constant in life is change. Big life changes, such as moving to a new city or becoming a parent, can require new learning and can sometimes make people feel unprepared or ill-equipped to handle life. One way to address this is to approach changes with some degree of acceptance, letting go of expectations. Turning the mind toward acceptance can help us be more willing to experience less-than-ideal circumstances, and make the best of a difficult situation, using it as an opportunity to grow.

Feeling helpless: If you are in a situation in which you feel no matter what you do, you get the same unrewarding experiences, you may be more vulnerable to depression. People who feel this way often give up after a while, determining no matter what they do they are powerless to change things for the better. If this is the case, it may be helpful to think about things differently. Bounce the situation off a few friends, and allow yourself to brainstorm all kinds of solutions, even those you couldn’t see yourself doing. Afterward you may have a different perspective on how to fix things. Sometimes, very rarely, no matter how valiant our efforts, some environments are just intransigent. In those cases, after you’ve exhausted every other strategy it may be best to cut ties with that environment and find one that is more yielding.

Passivity: If you are not in the habit of asking for what you want, you are probably not in the habit of getting what you want. The less you get what you want, the less reason you have to feel happy. People are usually passive because they fear some negative consequence of speaking up. Usually upon investigation these negative consequences are unlikely, and are more emotion-driven assumptions than facts. Many people are worried that if they are assertive with someone, that person will become angry or think less of them. The way to be more assertive if you are worried your relationship with the other person may be at risk, is to examine these assumptions and determine how likely they are. Examining our thoughts somewhat objectively can be a very difficult task, and requires the help of a trained cognitive therapist. Click here for more information on cognitive therapy for depression.  

Several behavioral causes of depression exist, and have clinically-researched and tested cognitive-behavioral remedies. Depression is a serious psychological problem. If you find yourself experiencing symptoms of depression it is not recommended you go it alone by trying these techniques yourself, but seek the help of a trained cognitive behavioral psychologist. Cognitive behavioral therapy for depression is usually significantly shorter than traditional talk therapy, lasting only 12-20 session, and significantly more effective. Click here for more information about cognitive behavioral therapy


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