Health Information

Reducing Your Risk of Depression

It may not always be possible to prevent depression. However, the following strategies may help reduce your risk of becoming depressed.

Be alert to factors that can increase your risk for depression, such as:

  • Family history
  • High levels of stress
  • Major life changes, such as death of a relative, assault, severe marital or relationship problems
  • History of physical or sexual abuse, or bullying as a child
  • Psychological factors, such as:
    • Low self-esteem
    • Perfectionism
    • Sensitivity to loss or rejection
  • Inadequate social support
  • Previous episodes of depression
  • Chronic physical illness
  • Heart attack
  • Chronic pain
  • Hormonal changes, including the postpartum period or menopause
  • Anxiety
  • Medications that can cause depression
  • Alcohol or drug abuse

If you feel overwhelmed by stress or are experiencing symptoms of depression, see your doctor for a physical exam and mental health evaluation. You may be referred for further evaluation or counseling, if appropriate.

A network of supportive relationships is beneficial for the prevention and treatment of depression. Supportive relationships serve as a buffer against stress, which can sometimes trigger depression.

A high level of religious involvement is associated with a reduced risk of depression. Spiritual faith in the context of organized religion can have a buffering effect on depression. In a group setting, it can provide the additional benefit of social support.

A variety of relaxation techniques can help you cope with stressors that may contribute to depression. Examples include meditation, deep breathing, progressive relaxation, yoga, and biofeedback. These techniques help you pay attention to tension in your body and release it with exercises that help quiet your mind and relax your muscles. You can also reduce stress by getting adequate sleep, rest, and recreation.

Regular exercise helps you relieve stress and may help prevent or reduce depression. Aerobic exercise and yoga have been found to be particularly beneficial for reducing stress and improving mood. Aerobic exercise can raise the levels of brain chemicals that affect mood, such as endorphins, adrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine. Other benefits of exercise include weight loss, increased muscle tone, and improved self-esteem. Yoga provides the benefits of stretching and deep relaxation.

Alcohol and drugs may contribute to depression. If you think you may have a substance abuse disorder, seek professional treatment.

Eat a healthy diet that is low in fat, high in fiber, and rich in vitamins and minerals. A Mediterranean diet may be associated with reduced risk for depression. Specific dietary factors that may be beneficial in depression are the B-complex vitamins (found in whole grains) and omega-3 fatty acids (found in cold-water fish, fish oil, and flax seeds).

Get a reasonable amount of sleep (around eight hours) nightly. If you are suffering from insomnia, seek treatment since chronic insomnia is thought to be a risk factor for depression.

Revision Information

  • Depression. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated July 19, 2012. Accessed July 30, 2012.

  • Depression. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression-easy-to-read/depression-trifold.pdf. Accessed July 30, 2012.

  • Depression (mild to moderate). EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/healthLibrary. Updated July 25, 2012. Accessed July 30, 2012.

  • Ellison CG, Flannelly KJ. Religious involvement and risk of major depression in a prospective nationwide study of African American adults. J Nerv Ment Dis. 2009;197(8):568-73.

  • McCullough ME, Larson DB. Religion and depression: a review of the literature. Twin Res. 1999;2(2):126-36.

  • Wink P, Dillon M, et al. Religion as moderator of the depression-health connection. Res Aging. 2005;27:197-220.