Risk Factors for Depression

Depression doesn’t typically just come “out of the blue though it sometimes seems this way,

By the time depression develops in someone their individual risk factors have typically already been in place for years. The number and range of potential risk factors for depression is quite high but for any given individual what matters most is identifying which specific risk factors they have and how they influence their quality of life.

depression man sitting on floor


A risk factor is any variable that increases the likelihood of developing a particular disease or condition.

In the same way we can say that someone who smokes cigarettes is at an elevated risk for developing lung cancer and cardiovascular disease, we can say that someone who has certain characteristics (such as how they manage stress or make decisions) is at an elevated risk for depression. In the most general sense, if you are capable of moods you are capable of mood issues. Thus, everyone is vulnerable to depression to some degree simply because life presents us with constant challenges.

If you have a body you will face health challenges. If you have a job, you’ll face work challenges. If you have a family, you’ll have family issues. Yet, not everyone who faces stresses in life becomes depressed. Why not? What can we learn from people who seem to manage life’s difficulties without sinking into despair?

As you’ll see when you read further, this is why I emphasize the importance of skills in managing life’s challenges. There are, indeed, skills you can develop that can play a huge role in reducing your vulnerability to depression.

It is a human failing to not pay serious attention to a problem until it is in the “critical danger” zone. But you don’t have to wait until you are miserable to do something constructive to turn things around. Knowing about depression is an essential first step in the direction of learning to manage and even prevent it. Knowing what the general risk factors are for depression is information you can use to build an awareness for your individual risk factors. In doing so, you can take active steps to reduce your vulnerability.

Common Risk Factors for Depression

Here’s a partial list:

  • Your thinking style
  • The explanations you give to life events
  • Adverse childhood experiences
  • Trauma
  • Significant losses
  • Poor coping skills
  • Poor diet
  • Lack of exercise
  • Chronic health problems
  • Poor problem-solving skills
  • Poor decision-making skills
  • High levels of perfectionism
  • Poor social skills
  • Lack of critical thinking skills



Each of these general risk factors can lead to specific thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that can give rise to a more pervasive sense of hopelessness and helplessness, the “one-two punch” characteristic of depression. People typically recognize the general issue they struggle with, such as perfectionism or being “needy” in relationships, but haven’t explored in meaningful detail its influence on their lives much less what to actually do about it.


Take some time and consider carefully what your ‘triggers” are for feeling bad and start to explore (through self-help strategies and/or professional treatment) what specific skills you can learn that will help reduce your reactivity to those triggers. The goal, of course, is to turn a recognition of any risk factor into a practical plan of treatment and/or prevention.