Approximately 1 in 10 Americans will suffer from causes of depression at some point, and diagnoses of depression are increasing by around 20% every year. While just under 50% of those diagnosed with depression benefit from anti-depressant medications and just over 50% of those who attend therapy report the positive change, it’s clear that a significant number really struggles to find an effective solution.
Consequently, it’s wise to consider whether some important causes of depression are being missed. If you have persistently low mood, lethargy, and feelings of hopelessness, here are nine underlying factors that may be to blame.
1. Sleep apnea
Sleep apnea influences the ability to breathe during sleep. The most common type—obstructive sleep apnea—is associated with soft tissue collapse at the back of the throat, while a rarer form—central sleep apnea—develops when the brain fails to prompt breathing when you’re at rest. Studies on depression show that roughly one in five people who suffer from depression also have some type of sleep apnea. So, if your partner alerts you to your apparent breathing difficulties during the night or you tend to wake up feeling exhausted, being tested for sleep apnea could also help you overcome a mood disorder.
2. A malfunctioning thyroid
An overactive thyroid gland causes hyperthyroidism, giving rise to symptoms like unintentional weight loss, sweating, and racing thoughts. Meanwhile, an under-active thyroid leads to hypothyroidism, causing weight gain, a lack of energy, muscle cramps, and slowed cognition. However, both types of thyroid problems can make you feel depressed or anxious, so a simple blood test could tell you a lot about the origin of your troubling mood changes.
3. Celiac disease
An estimated 1% of American people suffer from celiac disease, in which the body has a powerful autoimmune response to any gluten found in the diet (e.g. in wheat, barley, and rye). Meanwhile, 6% of people in the US struggle with gluten intolerance, or non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). Both of these problems present with digestive problems like gas, diarrhea, and bloating, but increasing evidence suggests that depression can also result—perhaps sometimes even without the intestinal disturbances. If you think you might have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, talk to your doctor about trying a gluten-free diet for 1-2 months and tracking any symptom changes.
4. Lyme disease
Transmitted by ticks, Lyme disease results from a bacterial infection that causes symptoms like a target-shaped rash, a flu-like illness, and sore joints. In addition, a group of scientists proved a link between Lyme disease and neuropsychiatric problems in 1994, though the average doctor may not have heard of this connection. So, if your difficulties involve not only low mood but also chronic joint pain, you should investigate Lyme disease as a possible cause—especially if you know you could have been exposed to ticks in recent years.
5. Toxic mold in the home
Although it’s famously difficult to tell whether a mold is harmful or benign, it’s vital to have a professional evaluate any mold you find in your home. Some indoor molds can cause everything from chronic fatigue to lung problems and mood disorders like depression. Evidence of this connection has been published in the American Journal of Public Health (and, interestingly, the researchers who conducted the study were initially trying to disprove the link between mold and depression).
6. Poor diet
Everyone is well aware that obesity results from eating too many sugary cakes or fatty fries. However, one of the less well-documented influences of a poor diet is depression. One particularly prominent 2011 study showed that participants who consumed the most sugar and fat were around 50% more likely to develop depression at some point (though one might wonder whether the direction of causation is the other way around—perhaps people prone to depression are “comfort eating” unhealthy foods). However, those who eat plenty of foods containing nutrients like antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids are doubtlessly actively supporting brain function and bolstering the central nervous system’s ability to self-repair.
7. Prescription drugs
While your overall health can benefit those beta-blockers that reduce blood pressure or the statins that keep cholesterol in check, both these types of drugs have a proven link to the development of depression in some patients. Accutane (a powerful treatment for chronic acne) has also been implicated. If you discover that one of your prescribed medications has depression listed as a side effect, talk to your doctor about whether there are any alternatives that might be less likely to impact on your mood.
8. Your environment
Another fascinating fact about depression is that people in urban communities are almost 40% more likely to develop a mood disorder than people in the countryside. Recent research suggests that this link results from the fact that those in cities have higher stress levels, which may raise the risk of mental illness.
9. Excessive coffee consumption
Finally, many people rely on multiple daily doses of coffee to keep energy levels up and increase productivity at work, but some works research suggests a relationship between drinking lots of coffee and being more likely to suffer from more intense symptoms of depression (as well as anxiety). If you try abstaining from coffee for 1-2 months, you’ll soon find out whether caffeine is exacerbating—or even causing—your feelings of melancholy.