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Ask the Experts

Question:

Would you say the causes of depression are mostly genetic, societal or environmental?

Answered by: Steven Roose

It appears that in most cases there is a combination of factors at work. Genetic vulnerability is often quite important, but genetics actually operate by creating a vulnerability that is expressed if other social or environmental triggers occur.

In a unique and fascinating study, the genetic vulnerability to depression was determined in a group of New Zealand women who were followed over 20 years.

In women who were genetically vulnerable, depression was expressed when environmental stress, such as abuse, occurred. However, if a woman was not genetically vulnerable to depression, even in the face of an environmental stress, depression did not develop.

The interaction between genes and environments not only explains vulnerability to depression, but also illuminates the phenomenon of resilience, that is, when people seem to emerge intact despite seemingly horrific experiences.