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Lesson 3.1 Causes of Depression- Environmental Factors (Part 1: Life Events)

For people in Beijing, have you noticed that your mood changes depending on AQI (Air Quality Index)? Yes, environment has a big influence on our mood, and when it’s getting too much, we say: the pollution in Beijing really makes me depressed! So what else makes us depressed? Let’s begin today’s lesson by looking at the most common causes from the angle of environment.

The causes of depression are probably the most difficult one to explain. There are so many factors involved: genes, biology, and psychology (which we have it in a separate lesson.)

Not to try to complicate things, today we are adding one more fact: environment. Oh yes, this one more factor of environment alone is like an ocean. So many fish is in here, but we are going to pick out only the biggest and most obvious ones for you folks.


We are dividing the environment factors into the following categories, which we will go into details one in each lesson:

  • Life events

  • Early losses and trauma, medical problem

In today’s class, we are going to take at the various life events that can lead to depression.

Life Events

Some of our life events are adverse that can increase our chance for depression. We list here the most common factors cross culture, nations, and race in this chart. These are all major life events that can cause a great deal of stress in a short period of life. In some situations, this environment can be more long lasting than one likes it to, and that’s chronic adverse life situations.

(This list is not exhaustive)

Now, sometimes we might have more than just one stressor at one time. That’d increase our chances for depression. One stressor weighs down like dozens when even just one more is added on life. Once these stressors are removed, one would start to feel better. However, it takes great deal of energy, patience and time to remove that especially when you are recovering from a major relationship breakup, or trapped in a bad job.

It’s also important to know that, just having stressors do not cause you depression. Your own threshold for depression holds the bar. This is where other factors are important: genes, psychological factors ( When we talk about personal resilience, we mean our resilience to life adverse.

(it’s okay. We put it here just so you know how difficult it is to peel off the depression factors as they are so intertwined. The chart only shows the relationship between two variables: gene and adverse events. Don’t forget we are not looking at psychological factors, air pollutions, and biological factors here yet. So the treatment is complicated and healing takes time too.)

So really don’t place too much blame on yourself or label you as weak. Some people got the long genes; while some of us got the short ones. Yes, you can partly blame it on your ancestors temporarily and partially. Self-blame is the enemy for self-healing.

Now you know the importance of life style, or life choices. These are often situations that you get into little by little, and sometimes without even realizing it. How do we make sure that we are on the right track? Self-awareness is the foundation for all other building blocks. Realize your strength and weakness and fully accept yourself, cultivate love and kindness in our life value that underpins all key pillars that hold up your life, and setting boundaries in your social and professional life can all help. We are all different, but these things have proven to be effective in building up a healthy life.

In our next class, we will explore how trauma and childhood loss can be related to depression.

(This article is edited based on Harvard Medical School Mental Health article:what causes depression? )

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