How Can a Person Be Depressed for No Reason?

Causes and Treatments of Depression

Sad woman sitting on sofa
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Many people struggle to understand depression. What makes it difficult for them is that when they become depressed, there is a visible reason like an illness or the loss of a job. So, it can be difficult to comprehend why it doesn't work that way for other people. Why would someone be depressed if everything in their life is good?

What Causes Depression

The reason is that depression can be caused by a defect within the brain that causes that person to not produce enough of certain chemicals, called neurotransmitters, which scientists believe are responsible for mood control. This could be compared to an illness like diabetes, where the body no longer produces enough insulin. There doesn't really have to be an outside reason. The reason is the chemical deficiency itself.

How It's Treated

The good news is that because it is a biologically-based illness, it is also very treatable. 

The most commonly-used treatments for depression are antidepressant medications (for example, Prozac, Effexor, and Cymbalta) and psychotherapy, either alone or in combination with each other. Combined therapy is considered to be the most effective. For most people, these treatments will be enough to achieve relief from their depression symptoms.

In some cases, however, medication and psychotherapy are not enough. In these cases, a treatment called electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) can provide a rapid response. ECT involves the brief application of an electrical pulse to the scalp in order to produce a seizure.

Finally, there are newer treatments, such as vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), which are proving to be effective for many patients who have not responded to medications and psychotherapy. Vagus nerve stimulation involves the surgical implantation of a pacemaker-like device which provides periodic stimulation to the vagus nerve. Transcranial magnetic stimulation involves the generation of short pulses of magnetic fields in order to stimulate an area of the brain thought to be associated with depression.

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Article Sources

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  • Donovan, Charles E. Out of the Black Hole: The Patient's Guide to Vagus Nerve Stimulation and Depression St. Louis MO : Wellness Publishers, 2005.

  • Rush A.J., "Acute and Longer-term Outcomes in Depressed Outpatients Who Required One or Several Treatment Steps: A STAR*D Report." American Journal of Psychiatry 163.11 (2006): 1905-17.
  • The Practice of Electroconvulsive Therapy: Recommendations for Treatment, Training, Privileging. A Task Force Report of the American Psychiatric Association, 1990.