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What Causes Depression?

Depression does not have a singular cause. It can be the result of difficult life circumstances, trauma, and/or genetic inheritance. Depression may also begin with seemingly no cause at all.

What is the difference between Depression and Sadness?

We often use the terms “depression” and “sadness” interchangeably, but they are actually quite different.


  • …is a normal, painful response to challenging life events.
  • …usually passes when the challenging event passes.
  • …is something we all experience at some point in our lives.


  • …may or may not include feelings of sadness
  • …is a more persistent experience
  • …includes a cluster of symptoms
  • …may or may not arise out of a painful experience, so a person might not identify a reason for symptoms.

People with depression may experience symptoms differently. Common symptoms of depression include:

  • Increased or reduced sleep
  • Reduced focus/concentration
  • Changes to eating or weight
  • Low mood or persistent sadness
  • Fatigue or low energy
  • Suicidal thoughts or preoccupation with death
  • Loss of pleasure for things previously enjoyed
  • Numbness or feelings of emptiness
  • Changes to sex drive
  • Withdrawing from friends, family, pets
  • Increased frustration/agitation
  • Lack of motivation
  • Get outside - vitamin D can help increase our mood
  • Engage with your social support – hang out in person or get creative with zoom calls, Facetime, and electronic games.
  • Journal about your thoughts and feelings
  • Create lists of things you feel grateful for
  • Listen to uplifting music
  • Smile and laugh (even if you’re faking) – research shows the acts of smiling and laughing have a positive effect on your mood
  • Physical movement - go for a walk or exercise for at least 30 minutes a day
  • Practice self-compassion – talk to yourself in the same way you would talk to a friend who was struggling.
  • Seek out a counselor to talk about your concerns

Getting Unstuck Workshop Video Series:

You can now watch our workshop series online! The goal of this workshop is to provide you with life-long tools you can use while facing anxiety-triggering situations. Access the corresponding helpful handouts here.

Video 1: Understanding Beliefs

Video 2: Identifying Schemas

Video 3: Alternative Responses

What You Can Do

Additional Resources:

- Adapted from the  American Psychological Association Help Center and California Polytechnic State University Counseling Services