Following the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine’s 2009 Report on Preventing Mental, Emotional and Behavioral Disorders Among Young People, Muñoz, Beardslee & Yelkin identify two broad classes of risk factors for depression (Muñoz, Beardslee & Yelkin, 2012):
- Specific risk factors are rather proximate, individual characteristics of an individual and its environment increasing the hazard for the outbreak of depressive episodes occurring eventually. Such factors include having first-degree relatives with a history of depression, having high symptoms of depression that do not yet mount up to fulfil the criteria for a clinical diagnosis, and exhibiting dysfunctional behavioural patterns or thought schemata. As having experienced a depressive episode already constitutes a considerable statistical risk for developing a subsequent episode, much emphasis should be put on preventing first occurences of major depression.
- Unspecific risk factors are generic, distant factors which lead to higher rates of depression and associated illnesses in concerned individuals. Poverty, to name an example, may result in a variety of poor outcomes in children, including an elevated risk for depression (Aber, Yoshikawa & Beardslee, 2012; Gilman, Kawachi, Fitzmaurice & Buka, 2003). Having been exposed to violence or abuse in childhood is similarly associated with anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, and depression in adulthood.
Overall, most approaches to prevention and health promotion share a common understanding that not one factor alone is capable of sufficiently predicting mental health outcomes in the broader scheme. The biopsychosocial model illustrates that social, cognitive/psychological, and biological factors inform each other and cumulatively influence the risk of depression.