8 Sources of Depression (and 8 Possible Antidotes)

Person in silhouette pushes boulder up hillDepression can be a bear to deal with. Heaviness; bleak thoughts; and lack of energy, interest, or motivation can conspire to make you feel like you need to push a giant boulder up a hill just to find relief.

To foster self-compassion in the face of depression, education is key. Not only is it helpful to be aware of some of the possible sources of your depression, knowing how to alleviate symptoms can help you better manage it. My intention is to offer some hope by suggesting that the boulder before you might not be as heavy as you think, nor the hill quite as high.

The following list of depression sources and possible antidotes is simply a starting point. If you experience depression, may this list inspire you to think constructively and curiously about your suffering.

Source: Disowned Anger

For some people, anger is a dangerous emotion based on unconscious beliefs or experience of harmful expressions of anger passed down in the family of origin. Anger is an important emotion, however. It often signals that someone is doing you harm. If you push down your anger, it can turn inward (the harsh inner critic) and cause a depressive response.

Antidote: If you sense a fearful or adverse relationship to anger, begin to bring more attention to it. Examine how anger was expressed in your family. How do you react to anger? Engage with it. You may notice a lessening of your symptoms with this inquiry.

Source: Being Cut Off from Emotions

If you are disconnected from your feelings for any reason, you are cut off from a major part of who you are. This is inherently deadening. Feelings make you human and alive. For people experiencing depression, feelings may feel foreign, unpredictable, scary, or pointless.

Antidote: Start a conversation about your feelings. What feelings are you in touch with? Which ones are you not? What hidden beliefs do you have about emotions? See what arises.

Source: Learned

Sometimes, depression is a learned way of being. If either of your parents experienced depression, especially major or chronic depression, you may have adopted depression as a way to feel connected with them, leading to an unconscious impression that this is how you need to be in the world.

Antidote: If either of your parents experienced depression, reflect on how that impressed on you. Do you believe depression is an essential part of being human? Are you afraid to NOT be depressed because you might feel less connected to a parent? It’s rarely that simple, of course, but there could be an element of this at play.

Source: Chemical

In some cases, depression is primarily an inexplicably chemical issue. There may be an emotional component if you traced the depression back in your family lineage, but sometimes the emotional component can change the brain chemically in ways that are then passed down between the generations, even as the emotional component or cause recedes.

Antidote: If your depression is debilitating, it is a good idea to consult with a psychiatrist. Medication, particularly when paired with psychotherapy, can sometimes lift the veil of depression enough to do the emotional work that can shift the tides.

Source: Misalignment of the Self

It can be depressing to be living a life that isn’t true to your heart and soul, especially if you don’t have a solid sense of who you are, what you need, and what brings you satisfaction and joy. If you grew up in an environment where you didn’t receive proper emotional holding and reflection, you may need help getting in touch with your true self. If you are misaligned or feel a lack of meaning in your life, it might link directly to your depression.

Antidote: Finding a good therapist who can help you explore the holes and emptiness may allow you to grieve past experiences, perhaps going back to childhood, and begin to discover who you really are. This is deep, important, and enlivening work.

Depression may be your psyche’s solution to difficulty regulating an aroused nervous system.

Source: Difficulty Self-Regulating

Depression may be your psyche’s solution to difficulty regulating an aroused nervous system. Perhaps due to trauma or an absent parent (anxious or insecure attachments), you may not have learned to regulate (calm) yourself properly.

Antidote: Do you get easily agitated or overwhelmed? Try a meditation practice and inquire about your ability to regulate. Is it hard to calm yourself? If so, working with a trained therapist can help.

Source: Existential Angst

It can be difficult being human. Having an awareness of all the suffering in the world is hard, as is the fact we all must face death. If you tend to focus on these existential issues and sobering realities, depression can result.

Antidote: Speak to a therapist about your concerns. It may be that your mind kicks up these things as a way to avoid your vulnerabilities. Explore the ways you might use existential fears unconsciously to manage other discomforts.

Source: Pervasive Anxiety

Depression can be a way for your psyche to manage deep anxieties. It may be that you are more anxious than you realize.

Antidote: Explore your thought patterns with a qualified therapist. Consider whether depression is operating as a buffer against more disturbing, anxious feelings.

Turn toward your depression. Getting to know its somatic qualities will help you unlock the doors that lead to self-compassion and healing. If you can find the resolve and commitment, you can find relief.

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Ben Ringler, MFT, GoodTherapy.org Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Rashida

    August 4th, 2016 at 10:37 AM

    Thankyou good therapy.org. I noticed my depression very early on as a teen. I’m into my adulthood and the symptoms grew worse. Being a Christian or a believer doesn’t mean you can’t have depression. I’ve been taking careful notes and “studying” the topic over the years off and on. I’m grateful for these articles that offer hope and insight.

  • Benjamin Ringler

    August 4th, 2016 at 5:36 PM

    Im really glad this is helpful to you, Rashida.

  • Tammy

    August 12th, 2016 at 7:05 PM

    My depression is so full of darkness, i see no light. I can only feel the chains tightly pulled around my wrists and ankles. No air in hear to breathe. Suffocating from such sadness and hopelessness. This is just too much.

  • Ben Ringler

    August 13th, 2016 at 1:34 PM

    Hello Tammy,
    As I mentioned in my email response, I am so sorry to hear how much pain and despair you are feeling. It is imperative that you seek immediate help. If you are feeling suicidal and have a plan, you need to dial 911 now.
    Ultimately, you need to get help and there is help available, despite what your negative thoughts are telling you. Whether you seek a therapist through this good therapy website or through insurance, a personal referral or google search, you must seek immediate therapeutic help. You also should get a psychiatric evaluation for possible medication to help You with your despair and hopelessness so that you can find some relief to do the therapeutic work necessary to move through the darkness. There’s not much more that I can provide in this forum
    But I do hope you take action to help

    Please, take care, Ben Ringler

  • Lorraine

    November 21st, 2018 at 2:10 AM

    No mention of trauma? My depression was due to childhood abuse which I had repressed. Now diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder.

  • Myron

    August 4th, 2016 at 11:09 AM

    I guess that I have pretty much always assumed that depression was chemical based only and that therefore would have to have medical intervention to treat.

  • Benjamin Ringler

    August 4th, 2016 at 5:38 PM

    I dont believe that depression is solely a chemical issue; it is very difficult to separate the emotional from the chemical cause, but in this culture, there is often a push to sell the chemical component solely. Thanks for your comment, Myron.

  • Myron

    August 5th, 2016 at 7:16 AM

    No I completely agree with you. I can very much see how things other than just a chemical thing could cause someone to be depressed but yep like you said, the drugs are always being pushed for the treatment no matter the cause.

  • Zoe

    August 5th, 2016 at 6:22 PM

    I’ve also found that aside from being more mindful and aware of where the feelings of my depression are rooted to, that dietary changes, along with vitamin supplementation has also helped. It’s true – a little bit can go a long way! Thank you!

  • Depression

    August 6th, 2016 at 1:55 AM

    I feel depression, difficulty sleeping, and I have a decrease in the average in vitamin D, is the reason for this?

  • Benjamin Ringler

    August 18th, 2016 at 10:57 AM

    I would get yourself checked out by both a doctor and a psychologist, to rule out biological factors and assess chemical and emotional causes for your depression. I wish you the best.
    Ben Ringler, MFT

  • Connie

    August 6th, 2016 at 5:58 AM

    Can you tell if depression is from early drug and alcohol use? I have s teen that started at like 12 :( she is 19 and is not able to form solid relationships even with us ! She has anxiety as well as PTSD from sexual assault as young teen. But I can’t tell which came first drugs or depression. She had tried many meds but was using pot and other drugs so???? What is a parent to do?

  • Benjamin Ringler

    August 18th, 2016 at 11:01 AM

    Regarding your teen, it is likely that the depression is a result of a variety of factors and can certainly be exacerbated by a chemical dependency, which can create deeper cycles of depression. It seems imperative that you seek treatment for her, to address the fallout from the assault, and the coping mechanisms that she has chosen, which can be dangerous in their own right. I would contact a specialist therapist (in teens, sexual assault/trauma, and addiction) and consult with him or her as to the best next steps. Family therapy might be indicated as well. I wish you the best in your efforts to help your child!
    Take care, Ben RIngler

  • Hayden

    August 6th, 2016 at 7:40 AM

    i am scared that this is something that could be hereditary and genetic. My mother has always been the depressive type and I want to know if that means that I am more likely to be like this or if my kids will be. I would like to think that if this is genetic then there would be some things that I could do that would help me to better understand what depression looks like in most people and how to get a head start on preventing it.

  • Benjamin Ringler

    August 18th, 2016 at 11:02 AM

    Hi Hayden,
    I understand your fears. I would recommend contacting a therapist and sharing those fears. Some fears are just that, fears, not what is actually happening. Contact a professional to help you sort out reality from fear.
    Best to you, Ben Ringler

  • Teddy

    August 8th, 2016 at 8:21 AM

    For many of us there is not this one thing to point the finger at, there are multiple issues going on all at once so it can be a challenge to know what to work on first!

  • Beverly Mason

    August 9th, 2016 at 6:12 AM

    Depression is fed by constant thoughts of the past. The past does not exist anywhere except in our mind. You cannot GO to the past to change anything. Grief can cause depression also. That is to be expected when we lose someone. However, to maintain depression it takes ruminating about the past. Just consider what you are thinking about when you feel depressed. Exercise is the #1 prescription for depression. Get outside and do something. Staying inside feeds depression. You need sun and air.
    Beverly Mason, LPC
    (Licensed Professional Counselor)
    Anxiety and Depression Center of Georgia

  • deborah

    August 9th, 2016 at 2:26 PM

    I would feel very sad if I felt like the only way that I could feel connected with another person is to exhibit the same depressive tendencies that they do.

  • Benjamin Ringler

    August 18th, 2016 at 11:04 AM

    Hi Deborah,
    Yes, it can be a sad thing to take on others’ suffering for the sake of connection. It speaks to the power of our need for connection and love. But there is ALWAYS an opportunity for growth, deeper connection and love if you can sort out the details of your specific depression. Psychotherapy is a GREAT PLACE to do so…
    Take care, Ben Ringler

  • Jen C

    August 22nd, 2016 at 7:38 PM

    Lost my Dad in 2011, ex filed for divorce in 2012, taking things out of the house while I was asleep, lost house, credit rating, as he stopped paying bills, lost residential custody of my son and daughter in 2013, divorce final in 2014, had to declare bankruptcy, my mother died, my supervisor, then a classmate (age 48). My sister changed the locks on my mother’s house as she was executrixx, plundered through, had sold my Mom’s car before the funeral, then I find out she took my mom to her brokerage and IRA place and had her sign a transfer on death (TOD), which named my sister 100% beneficiary of all her cash assets. This was signed 11 days after my Dad died, while my mom was sick with cancer.
    I have been to counseling and found I was married for 20 years to a narcisstic abuser (we moved 16 times during our marriage). I have had major depression disorder diagnosed since 2002, by an LCSW, who my next therapist reported to that state’s governing board about him molesting me. My children, who turn 18 and 20 in December, don’t visit, call, or express any interest in seeing me, and chasing after their affection, which has been apparently alienated, hurts like hell.
    So, where to begin? Tried CBT, inpatient therapy (long time ago, and BELIEVE me, that is NOT the place for me. I see a psychiatrist, am on anti-anxiety and antidepressants, but, who do I go to sort this all out? I am also disabled, had brain surgery at 15, my child is missing his corpus Callosum and has an adrenal insufficiency, so, I just don’t know where to begin. I have ADD….
    I think I need help. Then again, on some days, I feel fine.

  • Ben ringler

    August 22nd, 2016 at 9:02 PM

    Hi Jen,
    That is a tremendous amount of painful experiences, to say the least. My heart goes out to you. I really hope you keep fighting for your life and happiness. I might suggest lookin for a therapist near you who specializes in both depression/anxiety and family systems. There’s a lot of dysfunctional dynamics that you have no doubt internalized. Try a few therapists and get a good psychiatric recommendation that can work closely with a therapist that you feel comfortable with. I wish you the best in your search for healing and peace. Ben Ringler

  • Tom

    May 28th, 2017 at 8:57 PM

    “Turn toward your depression. Getting to know its somatic qualities will help you unlock the doors that lead to self-compassion and healing. ” Really great advice.

  • Peggi

    June 3rd, 2018 at 4:00 AM

    What about isolation?

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