An Overview of Situational Depression

The Importance of Treating Situational Depression

An Overview of Situational Depression

The events in our lives trigger our emotions. While we know that life will occasionally throw painful experiences in our direction, we still feel unprepared for the emotional upheaval. Often, our feelings overwhelm us and tax our ability to cope with the changes in our lives.

Our traumatic life events often trigger feelings of sadness, loneliness, and grief. This is normal. It’s part of the human experience. Typically, these feelings subside when the stressful situation improves, or we learn to adapt to the impact and the changes they create.

When adaptation is difficult, when trauma triggers symptoms of situational depression, professional intervention is beneficial and often required. Situational depression can magnify the intensity of the emotional impact of our life experiences, and progress to other forms of depression.

Understanding Situational Depression

Situational depression is typically defined as a short-term depressive disorder that occurs in the aftermath of a traumatic life change. Symptoms typically develop within 90 days of a traumatic life experience. Some of the more common triggers of situational depression include, but are not limited to:

  • The death of a friend or a family member
  • The processes or finalization of a divorce
  • Financial difficulties or job loss
  • A life or death experience a natural disaster, assault or combat
  • Problems at work, home, or school
  • Experiencing a major illness or accident

The Symptoms of Situational Depression

Situational depression can strike when your personal experiences overwhelm your coping mechanisms. Developing the symptoms of situational depression suggest that you have not yet adapted to the changes in your life. Some of the typical symptoms of situational depression include:

  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Physical symptoms such as stomachache, headaches or heart palpitations
  • Changes in sleeping or eating patterns
  • Sadness or bouts of crying
  • Worry, anxiety or feeling overwhelmed
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Loss of enjoyment of once pleasurable activities
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • The possibility of suicidal thoughts

A person living with situational depression typically feels more stress in their life than did before the event occurred. This treatable condition is often diagnosed when symptoms are determined not to be part of the normal grieving process, and when other forms of depression have been ruled out.

Understanding the Differences Between Situational and Clinical Depression

Although many of the symptoms of clinical depression and situational depression overlap, there are distinct differences between the two mental health disorders.

Those with clinical depression have at least five of the symptoms of depression that last two weeks or more. Their symptoms are serious enough to interfere with or degrade the ability to function in their daily lives.

Those with clinical depression often have noted chemical imbalances and may also live with delusions, hallucinations and other types of psychotic disturbances.

Situational depressive disorder is often considered an adjustment disorder, rather than true depression. That’s because a person living with situational depression is more ly to continue with their ability to function.

While in comparison to clinical depression, situational depression may not sound a serious concern, situational depression should not be ignored.

 For mild cases of situational depression, the following suggestions may help alleviate your symptoms:

  • Try to Exercise, to boost mood-elevating endorphins, even 20 minutes of moderate activity is beneficial
  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule
  • Engage in enjoyable activities with family or friends
  • Join a formal support group
  • Set realistic goals and expect gradual rather than immediate improvement
  • Try to spend time and confide in a trusted friend or family member
  • Let others help you by not isolating yourself

Treating Situational Depressive Disorder

Left untreated, situational depression can progress to a serious and often more difficult to treat, major depressive disorder.

Depending on the severity of the condition, situational depression typically responds to counseling or therapy, the use of antidepressant medication, or a combination of medication and counseling.

If you recognize the signs and symptoms of situational depression, it important to consider the services of a qualified professional, especially if you recognize the following symptoms or behaviors:

  • Missing time at work, school, or avoiding social activities
  • Physical symptoms such as heart palpitations stomach aches, or headaches
  • Significant changes in your eating or sleeping patterns
  • You are abusing drugs or alcohol to cope with your symptoms
  • Have thoughts of self-harm or suicide

The goal of the treatment plan for situational depression is to help you cope with your stressors and get back to feeling yourself.

A qualified counselor or therapist can help you:

  • Have a better understanding of your emotional and mental health
  • Help you learn effective methods of dealing with your symptoms
  • Develop new or improved coping skills
  • End any self-destructive patterns or behaviors
  • Overcome the fears, insecurities or behaviors that influence your symptoms

Differentiating Between Grief and Depression

Many people, just you, delay getting appropriate treatment for their situational depression because they assume their symptoms are part of a natural grieving process.

To help you differentiate between sorrow and situational depression, you may want to consider this, any emotion or behavior that interferes with your job, your relationships, and your enjoyment of once pleasurable activities should be evaluated with the help of a counseling for depression.

Depression can change the way you think and how your body responds to stress. You do not have to battle the symptoms of situational depression on your own. Contact us and a therapist or counselor will help you learn practical, effective techniques to manage your symptoms and reduce the risk of your situational depression progressing.




What is Situational Depression?

An Overview of Situational Depression

Situational depression, or adjustment disorder, is prompted by a significant change in a person’s life, such as the birth of a baby, the death of a loved one or the loss of a relationship.

Other significant changes can include an accident, traumatic episode or other considerable life change.

Situational depression is not long-lasting and symptoms typically tend to resolve themselves within several months of the event.

Situational depression has some similarities to clinical depression, which is also known as major depressive disorder, especially as it pertains to symptoms. However, clinical depression is more severe and symptoms are not necessarily connected to a particular event.

What Is Situational Depression?

Situational depression, also known as adjustment disorder, is a condition that involves depressed mood and is triggered by a stressor that is representative of a major life change.

The situational depression definition refers to an individual who has trouble coping or adapting to a particular life event.

The nature of the stress that prompts situational depression differs from person to person, but the emotional response to the stressor is atypical to what is commonly expected. Symptoms may cause impairment in a person’s daily functioning.

Situational depression does not last long and is not a permanent condition. A person with situational depression experiences symptoms that are in direct response to the life event or change. Symptoms usually start within three months of the event and commonly do not persist longer than six months after the life event has concluded.    

Prevalence of Situational Depression

Situational depression is one of the most commonly used diagnosis in clinical practice, but is understudied and has limited research. Situational depression statistics show that the disorder is extremely common and impacts people regardless of culture, gender or age. 

Situational depression is equally prevalent in men and women and varies in development and expression in different cultures. The prevalence of situational depression diagnosed in primary care facilities ranges from 3-10%, while the prevalence ranges from 5-20% in outpatient mental health treatment facilities and 50% or higher in-hospital psychiatric screenings.

Situational depression statistics show that there is a 1-2% prevalence of situational depression in the general population in the United States. Another study shows that the prevalence of situational depression in a multinational (Finland, Ireland, Norway, and Spain) study is 0.2-1% 

Situational Depression vs. Clinical Depression

The main difference between situational depression and clinical depression is that symptoms with situational depression are always in response to a specific stressor, resolve when the stressor ends and do not meet the diagnostic criteria for a major depressive episode. Clinical depression does not have to be prompted by a certain stressor and can occur with or without it. 

Despite differences, when comparing situational vs. clinical depression, there is considerable overlap in symptoms.

A person with situational depression will ly struggle with similar symptoms as a person with clinical depression, such as feelings of sadness, tearfulness, and hopelessness.

However, the symptoms of situational depression are of a much lower severity level and rarely include thoughts of suicide or self-harm.  

Another difference between situational depression vs. major depressive disorder is that a person with clinical depression is more ly to have difficulties in their daily functioning. Difficulties can occur in academic, occupational or interpersonal settings.

Symptoms of Situational Depression

Situational depression symptoms are similar to the symptoms of clinical depression and vary from person to person.

Symptoms always portray a significant change from a person’s general state of functioning. Symptoms can either be emotional, physical or behavioral in nature.

Children and teenagers often act out and show more behavioral symptoms, while adults commonly display more emotional symptoms. 

Signs of situational depression can include:

  • Sadness and frequent tearfulness
  • Anxiety and apprehension
  • Detachment and isolation from others
  • Fatigue and a lack of energy
  • Disrupted eating and sleeping habits
  • Headaches 
  • Stomach issues
  • Heart palpitations

Causes of Situational Depression

The causes of situational depression are always related to stress and can be both positive or negative in nature. Causes can either stem from one traumatic event or from a number of different situations.

Stressful events that can trigger situational depression can include:

  • The birth of a baby, adoption or addition of a new family member
  • Illness or death of a friend, family member or loved one
  • Changes in a marriage or relationship, such as fighting, separation or divorce
  • Financial changes, such as bankruptcy, the loss of employment or retirement
  • Going away to college or moving to a new house
  • A traumatic episode, such as a car accident, natural disaster or assault

Diagnosing Situational Depression

Mental health conditions are diagnosed by criteria found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5), and the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, 10th revision (ICD-10).

Mental health professionals use these two guides when diagnosing situational depression. For example, DSM-5 situational depression and situational depression ICD-10 criteria include: 

  • Emotional or behavioral symptoms occurring within three months of a life event
  • Exaggerated response to a stressor
  • Significant impact on interpersonal relationships
  • Symptoms are not the result of another mental health disorder

A medical practitioner may conduct situational depression tests to rule out medical causes or other mental health disorders, such as major depressive disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Treatment for Situational Depression

Situational depression treatment is important, as situational depression can potentially turn into a clinical depression in individuals who have risk factors for developing a mood disorder.

Situational depression can also elevate a person’s risk for suicide and can lead to substance abuse if a person uses alcohol or drugs to help manage their symptoms.

More mild cases of situational depression may not require treatment, as symptoms may resolve themselves.

Psychotherapy is the preferred method of treatment for situational depression and can help a person to understand and process how a stressor has impacted their lives.

Therapy can help a person to problem-solve and provide them with healthy coping skills, interventions, and techniques.

Support groups may also be recommended for a person struggling with situational depression, as extra support and validation can be received from others who are experiencing similar challenges. 

At times, situational depression medication may be prescribed to help individuals to manage feelings of sadness, sleeping difficulties or anxiety. Antidepressant medications or anti-anxiety medications are most often prescribed by medical providers. 

With proper treatment, most individuals are able to successfully overcome situational depression. Situational depression often resolves with the passage of time, as circumstances improve and when the person learns how to manage the triggering stressor.

The majority of people make a complete recovery and learn new coping mechanisms that allow them to improve their overall functioning as they move forward. Recovery occurs when a person learns how to effectively cope with a new life change. 

If you or a loved one struggle with substance abuse and co-occurring depression, don’t wait to get help. Call The Recovery Village today to learn about our programs that treat addiction and mental health issues simultaneously. 

  • Sources

    Cirino, Erica. “Understanding Situational Depression.” Healthline, May 9, 2017. Accessed June 21, 2019.

    Lal, Rachna, M.D.; Mackinnon, Dean F., M.D. “Adjustment Disorder.” Johns Hopkins Medicine, October 29, 2017.  Accessed June 21, 2019.

    Wu, Brian. “Situational Depression or Clinical Depression?” Medical News Today, September 28, 2018. Accessed June 21, 2019.

    Zelviene, Paulina; Kazlauskas, Evaldas. “Adjustment Disorder: Current Perspectives.” Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, January 25, 2018. Accessed June 21, 2019.


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