Have you just had a stressful event occur and been feeling low for a few weeks? You may be experiencing situational depression.
Are you feeling overwhelmed from trying to cope with the stress? Do you find it difficult to engage in activities you did before the event happened? Sometimes, depression is tied to a particular situation or event.
Many stressful events could cause situational depression, including relationship problems, and significant life changes like moving to a new place. It’s normal to feel intense periods of sadness when stressful events rattle your world.
Life changes can be challenging, but relief is available.
Situational depression is a type of depression that happens because of a specific stressor or event. It’s sometimes known as short-term depression or temporary depression because it doesn’t last long term, as major depressive disorder would.
Situational depression is officially called “adjustment disorder with depressed mood.”
It’s considered an adjustment disorder because the person experiencing the situational depression usually is relieved of symptoms after they have adjusted to the change that caused the depression, or the stressor has been completely removed. You may also find relief from symptoms after a significant amount of time has passed.
Situational depression affects both adults and children.
If you’re facing a significant stress and find it challenging to cope, you may be experiencing situational depression. Coping skills and treatment may help you adjust to the stressor and find relief.
Symptoms of situational depression vary from person to person and may range in severity. Situational depression may include experiencing these symptoms after a stressful event:
- poor appetite or overeating
- decreased sleep or sleeping too much
- feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, or worthlessness
- relationship problems
- difficulty taking care of yourself
- low levels of energy
- lack of motivation
- suicidal thoughts
- crying more than usual
- loss of interest in activities that were previously pleasurable
- trouble concentrating
- feeling easily overwhelmed
If you experienced a traumatic event and are experiencing intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings, this might signal acute stress disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), if the symptoms are continuing long after it’s over.
This may involve having flashbacks, avoiding situations that remind you of the trauma, and feelings of detachment from others.
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Several life events may cause situational depression. Some common stressors that can lead to situational depression include:
- relationship stress
- finanical problems
- natural disaster
- health problems
- illness of a loved one
- relationship problems
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), normal bereavement is not a part of the criteria for situational depression. Therefore, any person can experience the above events without developing situational depression. However, some people do, and it can be overwhelming.
Situational depression, when compared to clinical depression, is usually short term. Situational depression usually resolves when you have adjusted to the stressor that caused the symptoms.
Emotional and behavioral responses to the stressor in situational depression occur within 3 months of the stressor. With situational depression, you may experience distress that is out of proportion to the severity of the stressor.
Some people adjust to stressful events quickly and may not develop situational depression; however, others may experience symptoms that interfere with daily functioning. Situational depression always occurs because of a stressor.
Usually, symptoms resulting from situational depression resolve within 6 months of the stressor occurring. However, occasionally, you may experience situational depression for longer than this.
Treatment for situational depression is often short term, while clinical depression usually requires longer-term psychotherapeutic interventions.
In addition, some people with clinical depression may experience symptoms of psychosis, such as hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia. These symptoms are usually not present with situational depression.
A qualified mental health professional can diagnose situational or clinical depression. You might consider speaking with a licensed counselor, social worker, or therapist.
Situational depression is often treated with a combination of:
- coping skills
- sometimes medication
Therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and solution-focused therapy can help with situational depression by teaching coping strategies and ways to manage emotions related to the stressor.
CBT examines the ways that thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all interconnected. With CBT, you can learn to reframe unhelpful thought patterns that lead to maladaptive coping behaviors.
Solution-focused therapy is a very brief therapy that focuses on solutions rather than problems. You may consider this as one of your treatment options.
Some medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), may also be helpful in the treatment of severe situational depression, though not everyone needs these.
Common SSRIs that are FDA approved in the treatment of depression are:
If you consider medication, it’s essential to talk with your doctor about what medications may be right for you. It may also be helpful when discussing medications to tell your doctor any significant medical history and describe your symptoms. Being able to discuss history and symptoms can help your doctor suggest the correct medications.
If you are experiencing situational depression, there are steps you can take to find relief. These include:
- eating nutritious meals
- avoiding drugs and alcohol
- finding a supportive person to talk to
- identifying ways to change or eliminate the stressor
- practicing yoga
- deep breathing
You may consider reaching out to your primary care physician or finding a therapist near you if you have symptoms of situational depression. A mental health professional such as a counselor or psychiatrist can help diagnose situational depression.
You don’t have to deal with situational depression on your own. There are many resources available that can help.
The Silent Superheroes podcast has many great podcasts about mental health, including Taylor’s story about situational depression here. You might find it helpful to listen to Taylor’s story.
You do not have to go through this alone. Help is available through these, and many other, resources:
- NAMI’s helpline is available for anyone experiencing depression or other mental health concerns. Call 800-950-NAMI (6264) or email firstname.lastname@example.org. NAMI also offers access to many support groups if you are experiencing mental health concerns.
- You can find a NAMI support group near you using their program finder tool. The SAMSHA Treatment Locator connects you to behavioral health treatment near you.
- The Anxiety and Depression Association of America offers online support for anyone who may be experiencing depression.