Mental Health Awareness Week

Rainbow Counselling: What Causes Depression?

For Mental Health Awareness Week, our tenant Suzie from Rainbow Counselling offers us some insight into depression.

Mental Health Awareness Week, Millfields Trust

A question I’m often asked is – ‘So what actually causes depression?’

It’s a big and important question, and one that everyone from scientists to the Buddha have offered an answer to. For me, it has to come down to a combination of things. I know that might sound like a bit of a cop out! The thing is, our culture creates an expectation for the simplest and truest explanation of something to be readily available in the time it takes to Google search. But, as with any matter of the mind or the heart, the most helpful explanation (and solution) will always involve a combination of things. So I’m not going to put it solely down to genetics, or eating the wrong foods, or not enough sunlight, or insufficient serotonin levels.

Those things may be involved, but depression is a bigger and more complex picture, which usually involves how we manage our emotions long-term. But that’s no reason to avoid tackling it.

There is a fairly simple but beautifully holistic explanation that helped me to better understand depression (and the many questions that come with it – why me? Why now? Why can’t I shift it? What can I do? What should I have done? What can I do for depressed loved ones? There are so many questions. This is the Diathesis Stress Model, or the Stress Bucket Explanation in normal language.

We are each born with a stress bucket. Our genetics will pour a certain amount of stress into the bucket before we’re born, so some people will be more prone to developing mental health difficulties than others. Our genetics will also determine how much stress our bucket can take before we overflow into depression, anxiety etc. This is our maximum capacity. I might be born with a baseline at 25% prefilled, and a maximum capacity at 75%.

Whereas you might be born with a baseline of 10%, and a maximum capacity of 80%. That stuff is set, and will vary significantly from person to person. This is important to acknowledge because it takes the shame out of mental illness – everyone has the potential to overflow. No-one is ‘stronger’ or ‘weaker’, just different.

To read the rest of the blog, head over to the Rainbow Counselling website and if you want to know more about Mental Health Awareness Week please head over to