Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 11/10/2021
Depression, or major depressive disorder, is a common mood disorder that can have a serious impact on your feelings, thoughts and quality of life.
People of all ages and backgrounds are affected by depression. In fact, data suggests that in 2019, an estimated 7.8 percent of all American adults experienced one or more depressive episodes.
Depression symptoms often start in response to specific events or situations, which are known as depression triggers.
If you have depression, identifying your personal triggers can help you to reduce the severity of your symptoms and avoid relapse.
Below, we’ve shared some of the most common triggers for depression, as well as information on what you can do if you’re feeling depressed and need help.
Depression triggers are events, illnesses or other things that can lead to periods of depression, referred to as depressive episodes.
If you have depression, learning to identify and avoid your depression triggers can help you to gain more control over your moods and feelings. This may reduce your risk of experiencing a relapse of your depression.
Depression triggers can vary from person to person. For some people, feeling overwhelmed is enough to bring back depression symptoms, while for others, issues such as financial stress or health issues may serve as the initial trigger for a depressive episode.
Many different issues can trigger depression, including medical problems, stressful life events, an unhealthy lifestyle or difficulties related to alcohol or substance abuse.
When depression occurs, it can have a negative impact on your quality of life. Because of this, being able to identify and avoid the specific things that trigger your depression symptoms is an important part of recovering and making progress.
We’ve listed seven of the most common triggers of depression below, along with information on how each factor may contribute to or worsen depression.
For many people, depression develops after losing a loved one, such as a parent, spouse, close friend or sibling.
Everyone handles grief differently. For some people, losing a loved one can result in anger, high levels of stress and a depressed mood.
For others, grief can cause anxiety and difficulty coping with the demands of daily life.
Because it’s normal to feel down after the death of a family member or close friend, telling the difference between grief and depression can be difficult.
Over time, grief can gradually develop into complicated grief — a condition that’s often viewed as a psychiatric disorder.
If you’ve recently lost someone close and have persistent or severe depression symptoms, it’s important to reach out for help.
Financial difficulties can be a major source of stress, and research shows that they can also act as a trigger for depression.
In a study of American adults, researchers found that lower levels of income were linked with an increased likelihood of developing mood disorders. The link was strongest amongst people who earned less than $20,000 per year, especially in comparison to higher earners.
The researchers also found that a decrease in household income was associated with a higher risk of developing a mood or substance use disorder.
Similar research from the UK has found that financial difficulties are associated with depression, stress and anxiety, as well as potentially harmful habits such as alcohol use.
A variety of factors can contribute to financial issues, including excessive debts, an unexpected decrease in your income, health and medical issues, changes in the economy and simple things such as poor financial planning.
Losing your job can be a devastating event, especially if you have limited savings or live in an expensive area.
Beyond affecting you professionally and financially, losing your job can have a major impact on your mental health.
It can even contribute to an elevated risk of developing depression, anxiety or other potentially serious mental health issues.
Suffering a career setback can feel devastating for two reasons. First, because of the financial cost of losing your job, and second, because of the feeling of rejection that often accompanies being dismissed from your position.
If you feel lost, unhappy or depressed after losing your job, it’s important to reach out for help from a loved one or from a mental health provider.
Whether the final decision is made by you, your partner or the two of you, ending a relationship can be a stressful experience.
Ending a relationship is a difficult life transition that can have a negative impact on the way you feel and behave.
You may experience rumination, a form of persistent thinking that causes you to “get stuck” on negative aspects of your life, such as the end of the relationship.
When a breakup or divorce has a major negative impact on you, you may begin to experience depressive symptoms in response.
Like with other major life changes, it’s always best to reach out to friends, family members and other people you trust to discuss your issues in confidence.
Depression is often linked to illnesses and other medical conditions. In fact, an estimated 10 percent to 15 percent of all cases of depression are caused by illnesses or medications.
A large range of illnesses and medical conditions are associated with depression, including the following:
Heart disease. Both mild and more severe depression are common in people with heart disease, including heart attack survivors. Depression is also linked to a slower recovery process in people affected by heart disease.
Nutritional deficiencies. Several nutritional deficiencies may be involved in depression, including deficiencies of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B (for example, folate), magnesium and amino acids that are used as precursors to neurotransmitters.
Viruses and infections. Some people develop depression after learning that they have a virus or infectious disease. For example, depression is common in people affected by hepatitis and HIV.
Erectile dysfunction. Although the causal relationship isn’t completely clear, research shows that there’s a significant link between erectile dysfunction (ED) and depression in men.
Not all illnesses that are associated with depression are depression triggers. However, it’s likely that many cases of depression are either caused or made worse by the stress and difficulty that can develop from being diagnosed with a disease or other medical condition.
Certain medications can cause or worsen depression, including prescription drugs used to treat many common illnesses.
When depression is caused by medication, it’s referred to as “drug-induced depression.” A variety of medications may cause or worsen depression, including the following:
Beta-blockers. Although evidence is mixed, some research suggests that beta-blockers used to treat high blood pressure and abnormal heart rhythms may play some role in the development of depressive illness.
Finasteride. Although uncommon, some men who use finasteride to treat hair loss have reported developing depressive symptoms during treatment.
Hormonal contraceptives. Some evidence suggests that hormonal oral contraceptives (birth control pills) may contribute to a higher risk of depression and antidepressant use in young women.
Benzodiazepines. These medications, which are used to treat anxiety, may also cause or contribute to drug-induced depression.
Other medications that may play a role in depression include ACE inhibitors, antiobesity drugs, isotretinoin, corticosteroids and some smoking cessation medications.
Research shows that major depression is common in people with alcohol use disorders. In fact, a study published in the journal ISRN Psychiatry notes that 63.8 percent of people with alcohol dependence are also affected by depression.
Although alcohol can make you feel better in the short term, it’s ultimately a depressant that can have a negative effect on your brain and central nervous system.
If you drink alcohol, you may find that you feel more depressed. Alcohol may also increase your risk of developing other health problems, including issues that could act as depression triggers or make your existing depressive symptoms more severe.
Depression is also closely linked with substance abuse. In fact, depression and bipolar disorder are the two most common psychiatric comorbidities in people with substance use disorders.
If you currently have an alcohol or substance use disorder, or if you have a history of substance abuse, it’s important to inform your mental health provider.
It’s important to treat both conditions together to prevent one or the other from interfering in your recovery.
It’s normal to go through ups and downs. But when an event, behavior or other problem causes you to develop the symptoms of depression, it’s important to identify it and take steps to stop it from affecting you in the future.
If you’re prone to depression, try to make a note of your triggers, then create a strategy for each of them.
If you need to, let your family members or close friends know that you might need their help in certain situations, then reach out to them whenever you feel the need.
If you need professional help treating your depression, consider reaching out to a mental health provider in your area or online.
You can find a mental health provider locally by asking your primary care provider for a referral, or by making an appointment with a psychiatrist or psychologist in your city.
You can also connect with a licensed psychiatry provider with our online psychiatry service and receive personalized, evidence-based care from your home.
Finally, you can learn more about dealing with depression, anxiety and other common forms of mental illness using our free mental health resources.