What Causes Clinical Depression?
4.6 (17 ratings)
Course Ratings are calculated from individual students’ ratings and a variety of other signals, like age of rating and reliability, to ensure that they reflect course quality fairly and accurately.
1,615 students enrolled

What Causes Clinical Depression?

Learn About the Many Risk Factors for Common Mood Problems - And Why "Biochemical Imbalance" Isn't One of Them
Highest Rated
4.6 (17 ratings)
Course Ratings are calculated from individual students’ ratings and a variety of other signals, like age of rating and reliability, to ensure that they reflect course quality fairly and accurately.
1,615 students enrolled
Created by Randy Paterson
Last updated 9/2014
English [Auto]
Current price: $20.99 Original price: $29.99 Discount: 30% off
5 hours left at this price!
30-Day Money-Back Guarantee
This course includes
  • 3 hours on-demand video
  • 2 downloadable resources
  • Full lifetime access
  • Access on mobile and TV
  • Certificate of Completion
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What you'll learn
  • Understand the valley-bottom idea of depression: That there are many paths in, and knowing these paths may help in finding one's path out again.
  • Learn about the nine-node Depression Map model for understanding risk factors and their relationships.
  • Learn the distinction between controllable and uncontrollable risk factors.
  • Distinguish between vulnerability factors, triggers, and maintaining factors, and how these can relate to one another.
  • Learn about risk factors across the various nodes of the Depression Map, and the evidence (or lack thereof) for each.
  • Learn a bit about neuronal transmission in the brain, the monoamine hypothesis of depression, and the limitations in this hypothesis associated with newer research findings.
  • An interest in mood and mental health issues.
  • A desire to learn more about the causes of low or depressed mood than is usually provided by online overviews - or by clinicians.
  • An interest in going beyond the usual "biochemical imbalance" shorthand to look at what the data actually tell us.
  • And that's all: You don't need any particular educational background, or any special supplies. We'll provide you with a complete set of downloadable course notes that you can print out and use to follow along with the lectures.

Join over 1200 students learning about the causes of depression!

Clinical depression is one of the most widespread and potentially disabling health conditions of our age. It is caused by multiple factors - none of which seem essential and only a few of which are sufficient to bring about the full condition. A huge body of research examines the various risk factors for depression.

In this course, we look at the various risk factors associated with the mood disorders - particularly major depression. We use an expanded version of the Floating Diamond model presented in the "What Is Depression?" course: The Depression Map. This is based on the model that forms the basis for the presenter's book on the subject, Your Depression Map.

We range from biological and historical causes, through lifestyle and situational factors, to the often-neglected area of meaning. Along the way we look at the literature concerning diet, cognitive vulnerabilities, emotional tolerance, social isolation, exercise, and more.

The course also provides a basic primer in depression biology, investigating the idea that there may be a biochemical underpinning to depression. Although this is almost certainly a part of the picture, the science to back the idea up is often lacking, and researchers increasingly suspect that long-held ideas may not be as useful as was once thought.

Students receive an extensive notes package providing summaries of each lecture. Those taking the course to learn more about their own condition can follow along with an informal inventory of the causes covered.

NOTE: This course does not constitute treatment for depression or any other concern. It is designed for informational purposes only. Anyone with a history of depression should consult a healthcare professional for the assessment and treatment of their condition.

As well, this course does not focus on the treatment or self-care of depression - these are topics to be examined in other courses. Our emphasis is solely on the risk factors.

30 Day Guarantee: Not sure? You don't have to be. We have a 30-day complete money back guarantee, no questions asked. As well, some of the lectures are available for free preview with no payment required, so you can get a feel for the course before you buy.

Who this course is for:
  • People experiencing depression (though again, note that this course is not and cannot be considered treatment of any kind)
  • People affected by depression, including those with depression among their family, friends, coworkers, or employees
  • Healthcare professionals, including rehabilitation professionals, therapists, and other mental health workers
  • The general public interested in learning more about this extremely common set of conditions
Course content
Expand all 19 lectures 03:22:00
+ Untangling the Risk Factors for Depression
3 lectures 22:01

Depression is one of the most prevalent and expensive of health-related problems. Its causes are numerous - and understanding the risk factors for a given person can help in the selection of elements of treatment. This course reviews our understanding of these risk factors. The course is not treatment, nor a substitute for professional care, but may be an assist for those attempting to understand their own mood difficulties.

Preview 07:24

This is the complete 34-page set of course notes on all of the (other) lectures in this course.

Notes to Accompany This Course
34 pages

In this course we will use three intersecting classification systems for depression risk factors. 1) Controllable versus uncontrollable factors. 2) Vulnerability factors, precipitating factors (triggers), and maintaining factors. 3) The Depression Map - an examination of where the factors appear in a person's life and experience.

Three Lenses - Classifying Risk Factors for Depression
+ The Past: Biology and History
2 lectures 21:11

In this lecture we consider long-term biological factors associated with depression. Genetics: People do appear able to inherit a vulnerability to depression, but we do not inherit the depression itself. Gender: Although depression is extremely common for women and for men, more women experience it. Age: First onset of depression can occur at any time but peaks in the 20s, declining somewhat thereafter.

Biological Factors - Genetics, Gender, and Age

Elements of a person's early experience can contribute to depression vulnerability. These include the quality of the bond with parents, the occurrence of childhood trauma or abuse, parental depression, and parental alcoholism or drug dependence.

Historical Factors
+ Depression, Illness, and Substances
1 lecture 13:57

Illness can contribute to depression in two ways: by impacting on the quality of a person's life, and by directly producing symptoms that mimic those seen in depression. We discuss how many medications can also produce symptoms related to depression. Finally, we consider the link between alcohol and other recreational drugs and depressed mood.

Illness and Substances
+ The External World: Situational and Social Factors
3 lectures 26:48

Perhaps the largest body of research on depression vulnerability has to do with the recent history of major life events - particularly events involving loss. Here we look at the Social Readjustment Rating Scale and the problem of stress intersections.

Preview 07:48

In addition to major life events, what other factors in a person's life situation might put them at risk for depression? Here we consider socioeconomic status, income disparity, financial stress, urban versus rural living, contact with the natural world, media overexposure, work stress, and more.

Other Situational Factors

We are a social species, and many of our problems and dissatisfactions have to do with the quality of our relationships with others. Here we consider the influence of isolation, social support, being in a long-term relationship, relationship discord, relationship breakdown, bereavement, and poor assertiveness skills.

Social Factors
+ Lifestyle-Based Physiological Factors
3 lectures 18:47

If our bodies are machines, could their functioning be influenced by the fuel we use? Here we consider the role of poor diet in vulnerability to depression. We also take a look at the idea that nutrient supplementation may have a role in depression treatment - though the research in this area is often not as good as we might like.

Dietary Factors

Depression is a documented cause of sleep disorders, but can problems sleeping also contribute to depression vulnerability? It's clear that the answer here is yes.

Sleep Disorders

There is an enormous body of research looking at the link between physical fitness and depression. It appears that poor physical condition is a risk factor for depression, and that regular exercise is an effective treatment.

Preview 04:09
+ Depression and the Ways We Think
2 lectures 19:20

Depression affects thinking - both the quality of thought (concentration, memory, and decision making) and its content (positivity/negativity). But ongoing pre-depression patterns of thought can also predispose a person to depression. In this and the following lecture we consider some of the cognitive risk factors that have been identified.

Cognitive Vulnerability Part One

We continue our discussion of cognitive vulnerability factors, including learned helplessness (a belief that our actions have no real impact on the things that happen to us) and mental potholes (vulnerabilities that turn into triggers when we encounter situations that echo earlier difficult periods in our lives).

Cognitive Vulnerability Part Two
+ The Roles of Emotion and Meaning
2 lectures 15:30

Depression is defined in part by its impact on our emotions - but the way that we handle emotion can also influence the likelihood that we will experience depression. Some people appear to have lower "set points" for emotion than others. Some ignore the useful feedback function that emotions can provide. And some fear certain emotions - which may only serve to magnify them.

Emotional Factors

Meaning is the great missing element of much treatment for depression. It is clear that the loss of a sense of meaning in our lives can put us at greater risk of depression - and that dealing with issues of meaning may be crucial for many people during the recovery phase.

The Loss of Meaning
+ Brain Biochemistry
2 lectures 20:36

Odd that we have managed to get this far in the course without much discussion of the brain. But in order to consider the issue of biochemical causes of depression we first need to understand a bit about how the brain works. This lecture provides the quickest (and most basic) introduction to brain biochemistry that you've ever seen.

Preview 07:52

In the popular press we often hear that depression is caused by a biochemical imbalance. But what is meant by this term? An imbalance between what and what? And how are medications, often prescribed as a way of influencing brain biochemistry, thought to work? This is a difficult topic, because popular understanding may not match the present state of research on the issue.

Biochemical Imbalance?
+ Course Wrapup
1 lecture 09:50

In this final lecture we review the course and the three ways of classifying causes that we discussed in Lecture Three. We take a look at the risk factory summary in Appendix 2 at the end of the downloadable handout and suggest that, if you are depressed yourself, you could go back over the notes to fill out the summary to take to your physician or other health professional. Thanks for watching!

Course Summary