The 5 Causes of Depression and Actionable Advice

Interview: Dr. Colleen Cira, Psy.D. on The Causes of Depression.

Dr. Colleen Cira is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist who specializes in Women and Trauma, so I’ve worked with hundreds of people struggling with Depression. There can be several causes of depression with some accompanying ways to cope with this condition.

Here are some talking points for an interview exploring The Causes of Depression:

  1. Genetic/Chemical: Some of us have a genetic predisposition toward depression due to our family history (yay, genes!) which can make everything seem a little harder especially when you’re in college and have so many new things to figure out.

In this case, research is very clear that therapy and medication are the best ways to manage depression when it seems clear that there is a genetic and/or chemical component. Research has also proven that both exercise and meditation can also be incredibly helpful (possibly just as helpful if not more than medication) as they both directly address the chemical component of depression for the better.

2. A major adjustment. Depression or low-grade sadness is very common in college freshmen coming in and seniors who are on their way out due to the major adjustment they are trying to wrestle with. Being away from home for the first time or conversely leaving a place and a support network that you’ve become incredibly familiar with over the last 4 years is a very difficult thing to do.

If a significant life transition is what is causing the depression, a few things can be helpful: a) Try to establish a routine. Too much free time can leave a lot of room for our brains to wander to unhelpful places. Figure out a schedule and stick to it; b) Rely on people you love. Ask for help, talk to your friends and/or family about your struggles, connect with others who feel similarly. That’s what friends are for. c) Incorporate the familiar in with the novel. Decorate your dorm with meaningful trinkets, cover your walls with pictures of your family and friends, or find a yoga class that feels similar to the one you loved so much at home.

3. Grief and loss. Sometimes when we lose someone we love, we simply grieve. And grieving couldn’t be more natural, normal or healthy. Then there are others times when the grief is sticky and turns into Depression. Differentiating between the two (grief and depression) is far less important than knowing that you’re struggling and taking good care of yourself.

If grief/loss is causing the depression, one of the best things you can do is walk through it. Grief is often so painful and acutely sad, we want to avoid it. We avoid talking about the person, thinking about that person. We avoid songs that make us think about who we lost or maybe we even avoid places that remind us of that person. Here’s the problem: the more we avoid, the more quickly we may feel better, BUT that does not mean we’re “over it”. . . not by a long shot. So when we avoid, we tend to drag out the grieving process instead of shorten it. The only way over grief is to walk through it. So make room and time to feel all of those feelings, talk about your loved one, listen to that tough song every now and then and bawl your eyes out, and tell stories about the person you lost. We don’t ever get over grief, but we can let it transform us in beautiful ways when we allow ourselves to sit with the pain.

4. A trauma. College can be So. Much. Fun. But it can also be a breeding ground for trauma. The combination of young people trying new things + alcohol and/or drugs + newfound freedom can lead to disastrous consequences. This is especially true for women who are at incredibly high risk at this point in their lives for experiencing a sexual assault. Experiencing a traumatic event—whether that’s a sexual assault or something else entirely—is terrifying and causes incredibly high levels of anxiety, quite possibly long after the event itself is over. And when you’re very anxious for long periods of time, that demands a lot of energy, which your body can’t sustain for very long. So what happens? We crash and often fall into a depression. (This is often why depression and anxiety feel so linked…because they are).

When the depression is caused by something traumatic, therapy is typically required. If we just try to forget about whatever bad thing happened and get on with our lives, we might be able to at first, but the problem is, the bad thing hasn’t gone away . . . it’s just gone underground. And that is NOT where we want bad things to go because then they start to come out sideways and in unexpected ways. Getting therapy to deal with the origin of the depression—the trauma—is really one of the only ways to ensure that the depression AND the trauma actually get dealt with in effective and long-term ways.

5. An anxiety disorder: This is a sneaky one. When we’re chronically anxious for long periods of time, our bodies get tired. Think about the last time you were really worried about a test you had coming up. Remember how much space it occupied in your head? How you were constantly doing things to prepare OR constantly doing things to avoid it? Do you remember how much your heart would race even just thinking about it? You may have even gotten a headache or experienced stomach problems when you were studying. All of that is EXHAUSTING and your body can’t sustain the kind of energy output all of that anxiety requires for very long. So when the body needs a break from being anxious, we typically can crash into what feels like, or actually is, a depression.

When the depression is a result of chronic anxiety, we need to address the anxiety. Sometimes, if the anxiety isn’t so bad, we’re able to do some things on our own to reduce it. Some of these things include: a regular practice of diaphragmatic breathing/meditation and/or mindfulness, regular exercise, good sleep hygiene, a regular practice of rest/relaxation, avoidance of stimulants (caffeine, nicotine, other upper drugs, etc), facing fears head on, talking about our worries, and using distraction to re-focus our thoughts and energy. But other times, when the anxiety feels excessive, out of our control, is most of the day, more days than not and is negatively impacting our ability to function, we might need professional support such as therapy


Available for Interviews: Dr. Colleen Cira, Psy.D.

Dr. Colleen Cira received both her Masters and Doctorate from The Illinois School of Professional Psychology and is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the State of Illinois.  She’s the Founder and Executive Director of Cira Center for Behavioral Health, PC, a boutique group practice specializing in Women and Trauma with locations in Chicago and Oak Park.

She was named one of the “Top 100 Women in Chicago Making a Difference,” by Today’s Chicago Woman. Dr. Cira is a trauma and anxiety expert, clinical supervisor, writer, speaker, consultant, activist, wife, and Mommy to two little ones.

Jo Allison
PR Managing Editor
Success In Media, Inc.

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