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Roughly one in six individuals will experience depression during their lifetime. Depression can impede daily functioning in lots of areas if left untreated. Some individuals might experience depression constantly, whereas, for others, an episode may be precipitated by circumstances such as stress, sleep deprivation, or seasonal changes.

What Triggers Depression

Although there are other varieties of depression, this article focuses on the major depressive disorder (MDD). The nature of MDD is episodic, which means it can come and go. Some people experience only one episode of MDD. However, the chance of recurrence is approximately 60 percent after one incident, up to 70 percent after two episodes, and 90 percent after three or more episodes.

This article describes the most prevalent triggers of depression. Understanding them can keep you from getting a depression episode or, at the very least, recognize when treatment is necessary.

People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often use the word “trigger” to describe what makes them feel anxious, sad, or other strong emotions. This “trigger” could be an odor, a sound, or a sight. It could be a geographical location or a tragic event’s anniversary. The word can also mean something that makes the symptoms of other mental health problems, like depression, worse.

Like a sudden, unexplained forest fire, sadness frequently erupts for no apparent reason. Occasionally, however, one can pinpoint a catalyst—the lightning bolt that ignited the situation. No single misfortune can entirely explain how and why someone gets depression, and depression can arise and persist largely independent of external events or situations. But some traumatic events, like the death of a loved one, divorce, or being laid off suddenly, can cause separate episodes of depression, especially the first one.

Psychologists and psychiatrists have been lumping these kinds of things together for a long time under vague terms like “severe psychosocial stress” and “stressful life experiences.” But in recent years, a few academics have looked more closely at the different things that can cause a depressive episode. 

The research so far suggests a more complex understanding of how stress interacts with individual predispositions to depression, how quickly depression follows different types of stress, and how to best treat depression in these diverse settings.

The taxonomy of causes for a major depressive episode is extensive and varied. Some people feel depressed after discovering they have a major illness, when their homes are destroyed by a natural disaster, or when they fail to fulfill significant ambitions. Those who have endured rape and war are also susceptible to depression.

Most people get depressed because they’ve lost something important to them. This can happen in many ways, like when they lose their job or lose money. Approximately 44% of depressive episodes are prompted by “interpersonal loss,” like the death of a loved one, divorce, the termination of a sexual connection, or the relocation of a close friend to another part of the country, according to extensive studies. In other words, a disrupted relationship with another person likely induces depression more than any other form of pain.

An event that triggers a depressive episode does not need to be catastrophic; often what appears to be slight stress or a little loss to the majority of people is sufficient to plunge someone into persistent sorrow. 

It all depends on an individual’s susceptibility to depression, which is ascertained by a complex interplay of many factors, such as stress factors in one’s life; family history of psychiatric illness; cognitive styles—that is, a person’s unique patterns of thought; and psychological stressors, like adverse situations in early childhood and the absence or presence of caring family and friends.

In the field of mental health, a trigger is a physical, emotional, or psychological component that induces or exacerbates the symptoms of a condition.

Different things can set off depression in different people, depending on what they’ve been through in life. Occasionally, depression occurs without a discernible cause.

Depression can be precipitated by a combination of different factors. Possible depression triggers may include:


One of the commonly asked questions is “does stress cause depression?” Given its physical consequences on the brain chemistry and the body, psychological stress is a key cause of depression. In particular, stress causes hormonal changes that can be seen in about 70% of people who are depressed. The pituitary, hypothalamus, and adrenal glands are unable to regulate mood and emotion appropriately.

The stress hormone cortisol is released, resulting in physical alterations to brain cells. Stress can even alter the size of the hippocampus, a region of the brain that is thought to shrink in depressed individuals.

Psychological stress also boosts the immune system, involving the release of cytokines associated with depression. The fact that these immune compounds are active in neural tissue of the brain, particularly the hippocampus, explains their function in causing mental illness symptoms. Depression caused by stress that has persisted for a long time has deep roots in the brain and body of the individual and thus is difficult to manage and treat.


Illnesses may lead to up to 10-15 percent of all cases of depression. This association is possible because:

  • The illness itself may be devastating, and the diagnosis itself may be traumatic (for instance, HIV infection, cancer, Multiple Sclerosis)
  • The illness may produce depressive symptoms (– for example, hypothyroidism, mononucleosis, and vitamin B12 insufficiency)
  • The condition may have an intrinsic link with depression (– for example, Parkinson’s disease, heart attack, erectile dysfunction)
  • The treatments used to treat the illness may cause depression (– for example, some cardiovascular medications, certain antibiotics, and hormones)

The association between disease and depression is bidirectional. Depression can be caused by many diseases or treatments, and it is known that depression can slow healing and make it more likely that a person will die from many diseases. In the case of a chronic or fatal condition, sadness can exacerbate the pain caused by the sickness itself.

Physicians should alert their patients to a certain sickness or medicine that can cause depression, and they should monitor these side effects. In the same way, people who are sick should be aware of this common and terrible part of being sick.

Grief and loss

After the loss of a loved one, it’s common to experience grief and depression.

Loss and grief, like the death of a loved one, may not always result in a depressive disorder, but they can precipitate depression in some people.

Social exclusion

Rejection by others, especially if it happens more than once, could make it more likely that someone will get depressed. For example, rejection could be the result of a failed relationship or job loss.

Depression is also linked to being sensitive to rejection, which is the tendency to expect and react to real or imagined rejection.

Traumatic life experiences and situations

Most episodes of depression are caused by stressful events that happened in the six months before the first signs of depression.

Unemployment, poverty, and other financial problems can make people feel depressed. This is especially true for college students who have to stop studying because they don’t have enough money and don’t have a history of mental illness.

Relocation among immigrants and refugees is an additional stressful event that might promote depression.

Being attacked or victimized

Violence, both physical and sexual, abuse, bullying, and the experience of racism can all make someone feel depressed.

Lack of sleep

Sleep difficulties frequently precede depressive episodes. Additionally, this may lead to the onset of depression. Additionally, sleep loss can exacerbate and prolong a depressive episode.

Seasonal variations

Some people experience low mood and depression as the seasons change from winter to spring or summer, or from summer to autumn or winter.

Seasonal depression or Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is the name given to this type of depression.

Alcoholism and drug abuse

Chronic substance usage exacerbates the intensity of mood problems, which may include depression. Alcohol addiction can also trigger depression.

Binge-watching TV

Some studies have found that binge-watching TV and finishing a TV series or movie can make you feel sad. It may also exacerbate symptoms of depression, such as loneliness, social isolation, and insomnia.

Watching sad or negative TV shows and news

A person’s low mood and depression may get worse if they are exposed to negative news and media on the radio, in the newspaper, on social media, or on TV. Negative news might amplify feelings of sadness, anxiety, distress, and rage.


When someone experiences big life events, they may ruminate about them.

Rumination is when you think about a traumatic event that happened in the past over and over again. This can cause anxiety. Rumination is characterized by excessive thinking that interferes with other mental processes.

Depressive symptoms are connected with greater ruminating. It is believed that rumination may induce symptoms of depression by mediating the connection between stressful situations and psychological suffering.

A relapse occurs when a person’s depression returns within six months of the initial bout. Approximately 60 percent of individuals experience relapses of depression.

A relapse is distinct from recurrent depression, which occurs more than six months following the initial bout of depression.

In addition to the reasons as mentioned earlier, the following may also trigger a relapse of depression:

  • Not receiving complete treatment (particularly medication) before recovery from the initial depressive episode
  • Having completed treatment but continuing to experience residual depressive symptoms later.
  • Having a history of depressive relapse
  • Daily niggles
  • Poor management of life problems in everyday life
  • Struggle to maintain a positive outlook.

Some life events tend to be fairly potent depression triggers. There is an abundance of evidence linking personal and social loss events, for instance, deaths, breakups, divorce, separations, and separation threats to depression. Brown and Harris did a groundbreaking study on depression and stress in women. They found that more than 75% of the bad things that happened before depressive episodes were relationship, social, or interpersonal loss events. Furthermore, both severe and non-severe relationship loss events were more likely than non-loss severe and non-severe events to cause depression episodes in late-teenage women.

Extreme experiences involving entrapment and humiliation, like a child’s rejection, a partner’s infidelity, or the discovery that a spouse’s illness would not improve, are much more likely to be accompanied by depressive episodes. Research indicates that women may be particularly susceptible to depression following a loss of a relationship. Compared to teenage boys, adolescent girls face a greater proportion of interpersonally stressful life events, making them more susceptible to depression.

Although manageable stressful life events (i.e., those in which people made a significant contribution to their occurrence, like certain conflicts in relationships or romantic breakups) are more likely to show up before first onsets than recurrences, stressful life events that are “fateful” or uncontrollable (for example, death of or isolation from life partners) may act as potent depression episode triggers, particularly for relapses (this implies that although uncontrollable events may be difficult for everyone, they are especially difficult for those with a history of depression. Importantly, the significance of stressful life events in the onset of depression may differ by gender, age, and personality/cognitive type compatibility. 

Those who place a disproportionate amount of importance on interpersonal relationships (termed sociotropy) may be more susceptible to depression following stressful interpersonal events than stressful occupational events. Consequently, various types of situations may be more depressogenic for individuals, depending on several variables, including personality qualities.

  1. What are some depression triggers? Verywell Health. Available at:
  2. What are the common triggers of depression? HealthMatch. Available at:
  3. Depression triggers: What are they and how to cope with them, NeuroSpa. Available at:
  4. Researchers take a closer look at the most common and powerful triggers of depression. Scientific American. Available at:



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