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, 2012Gilman, 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.

The biopsychosocial model

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.