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Lesson 3.1 Causes of Depression- Environmental Factors (Part 2: Life Situations)

Depression in China has been a growing issue in the past decades. One thing we all can agree is that urbanization has sped up, and the country is experiencing world record high speed of migration. Migration has separated families leaving many rural children and elderly behind. The suicide data has showed that elderly in the rural area make up the largest portion of suicide death. Is it a coincidence? Does this country wide migration without sufficient support system have an impact on people’s mental health? Before we answer that question, let’s first try to understand the factors of environment of early losses, trauma and medical problems on the individual level.


This is part of our big topic: Causes of Depression- Environmental Factors. We are dividing the environment factors into the following categories, which we go into details, one in each lesson:

  • Life events ( we dived into this in lesson 3.1 part 1)

  • Life Situation: Early losses and trauma, medical problem (part 2)

In today’s class, we are going to take at Life Situations focusing on early losses and trauma, as well as medical problem.

Life Situations

You can’t blame yourself for everything that happened. We list the factors that we have comparably little control over, especially our childhood environment, or your physical conditions. By being aware of them can help us to process our feelings, and make sense of them. (I always believe, knowing is first step of healing, and should be on the top of our coping mechanism.)

Early losses and trauma

Yes, it comes back to your childhood. You might not remember what happened. But your brain was wired in certain way because of the early stimulation. For more details, scroll down.

Medical problems

Certain medical problems are linked to lasting, significant mood disturbances. In fact, medical illnesses or medications may be at the root of up to 10% to 15% of all depressions. We give you more details on this. If you want to know whether your medication plays a role in your mood. See our chart in the bottom.

Early losses and trauma

Certain events can have lasting physical, as well as emotional, consequences. Researchers have found that early losses and emotional trauma may leave individuals more vulnerable to depression later in life.

Childhood losses. Profound early losses, such as the death of a parent or the withdrawal of a loved one's affection, may resonate throughout life, eventually expressing themselves as depression. When an individual is unaware of the wellspring of his or her illness, he or she can't easily move past the depression. Moreover, unless the person gains a conscious understanding of the source of the condition, later losses or disappointments may trigger its return.


The British psychiatrist John Bowlby focused on early losses in a number of landmark studies of monkeys. When he separated young monkeys from their mothers, the monkeys passed through predictable stages of a separation response. Their furious outbursts trailed off into despair, followed by apathetic detachment. Meanwhile, the levels of their stress hormones rose. Later investigators extended this research. One study found that the CRH system and HPA axis got stuck in overdrive in adult rodents that had been separated from their mothers too early in life (There are so many boarding schools in rural China that takes in children as young as 5 or 6 years old, separating them from their family). This held true whether or not the rats were purposely put under stress. Interestingly, antidepressants and electroconvulsive therapy relieve the symptoms of animals distressed by such separations.


The role of trauma. Traumas may also be indelibly etched on the psyche. A small but intriguing study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that women who were abused physically or sexually as children had more extreme stress responses than women who had not been abused. The women had higher levels of the stress hormones ACTH and cortisol, and their hearts beat faster when they performed stressful tasks, such as working out mathematical equations or speaking in front of an audience.


Many researchers believe that early trauma causes subtle changes in brain function that account for symptoms of depression and anxiety. The key brain regions involved in the stress response may be altered at the chemical or cellular level. Changes might include fluctuations in the concentration of neurotransmitters or damage to nerve cells. However, further investigation is needed to clarify the relationship between the brain, psychological trauma, and depression.

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