Risk Factors for Major Depressive Disorder

Learn what boosts the odds that you or a loved one will suffer from major depressive disorder.

Risk Factors for Major Depressive Disorder

Major depression (also called clinical depression, major depressive disorder, or MDD) doesn't discriminate between different types of people. Anyone—men, women and all age groups—can become depressed, but several factors can increase your personal risk of major depression:

  • You're female. Women are about 70% more likely than men to have depression during their lifetime, and for women between the ages of 25 and 44, the risk is even higher. Experts believe this is due to a combination of hormonal changes, social and cultural problems that affect women, and added stress from work, parenthood, and caregiving.
  • You have a family history of depression. Major depression can affect you even if you don't have a family history of it, but you're more likely to become depressed if you have a relative (especially a parent, sibling, or child) with depression. Current research shows that the risk for clinical depression is most likely a result of both genetics and other life factors.
  • You've had major depression in the past. More than 50% of people who experience major depression become clinically depressed again. That's because depression is a disease that often returns. The right treatment can reduce the chance of a relapse and keep repeat episodes of major depression as short as possible.
  • You've experienced a lot of stress. The stress of divorce, the death of a loved one, or other painful experience can raise your risk of clinical depression. The same is true for traumatic childhood events, which can trigger major depression in adults. If you've ever been depressed or have a family history of depression, your risk of getting depressed due to grief or stress may be even higher.
  • You abuse alcohol, drugs or nicotine. People with depression often use drugs and alcohol to feel better, but do you know that substance abuse may actually raise your risk of depression? Experts think drug abuse may lower the brain's ability to deal with stress, making you more vulnerable to depression and making episodes of depression more severe.
  • You don't have strong social support. When it comes to your health—mental and physical—there's something to be said for having good friends and family around when you need them. Not having enough support is a risk factor for major depression. In turn, if your depression isn't treated, it can get in the way of good relationships.
  • You have a chronic illness or take certain medications. About 10% to 15% of depression cases are caused by a medical condition, such as heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer's disease, or rheumatoid arthritis. Some medications can also raise your risk of major depression.

Experts don't know exactly why some people get major depression and others don't, but they do know that some risk factors can make you more vulnerable to experiencing it. Depression can affect the way you feel, both physically and mentally. If you feel depressed or have key risk factors, talk to your doctor. With the right treatment, you can take control of major depression.

Medically reviewed in June 2018.

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