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What is Situational Depression?

Katelyn Hagerty FNP

Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 10/6/2021

We all have different ways of handling disappointments — whether that’s simply pushing through the pain, or attempting to numb things down with a few beers and some comfort food. 

However, for many people, powering through a setback or eating away at the blow may not be enough to take the hurt away. 

In such situations, it becomes a struggle to get the mix of emotions under control — which can sometimes make it grueling to go about daily life.

Situational depression is a type of depression that accompanies a drastic change or disappointment in a person’s life. 

This condition is reactive and may usually result from a nagging difficulty to adjust to the differences caused by this new situation.

It’s important to note that situational depression may vary from person to person, and to that end, here are ways to help identify the condition.

Read on to learn more about the signs of situational depression, along with possible causes and treatments to help manage or beat it.

Understanding Situational Depression

To begin, situational depression isn’t exactly a recognized depressive disorder. It’s more like an informally acknowledged condition, during which someone experiences depressive symptoms associated with stress. 

These symptoms usually become apparent after a particularly traumatic event. For instance, losing a loved one, being dismissed from a longstanding job or experiencing a devastating heartbreak can push your emotions to the extreme. 

In such cases, it can take some time to get used to feelings of despair, and grief and sadness could be extremely hard to get under control.

According to the Official Journal of the World Psychiatric Association, situational depression may be classified as a type of adjustment disorder that takes place within one to three months after a stressful event. 

Because people are expected to go through a normal grieving process — feelings of sadness or struggling to adjust following such an event may not be enough to classify every display of these emotions as situational depression. 

Instead, the reactions must be such that they are particularly distressing or outside of the expected response to the triggering situation. This response may also affect daily functioning.

The natural response to these factors may also take different forms, depending on the individual involved, or the identifiable stressor.

Symptoms of Situational Depression

At their core, situational depression symptoms are much the same as those of a mood disorder. 

This is why similarities may be observed between this mental health condition and other forms of clinical depression (depressive disorders brought on by stressors) such as major depression or bipolar disorder.

However, to distinguish between either mental illness, we should note that symptoms of adjustment disorder usually present when the person affected actively engages with the event that has brought the depressed mood.

For example,  speaking about or being reminded of the stressful event can usher in a flood of negative emotions associated with situational depression. 

However, when the person is away from the stressful situation, a noticeable improvement in symptoms is usually observed.

Both major and mild cases of situational depression may be identifiable by certain behavioral and emotional symptoms. The National Institute of Mental Health lists the symptoms as:

  • Worry

  • Anxiety

  • Insomnia or changes in sleeping habits

  • Sadness

  • Low mood

  • Weight gain

  • Weight loss

  • Frequent crying

  • Poor concentration

  • Waking early in the morning

  • Feelings of hopelessness

  • Suicidal thoughts or self-harm attempts

However, despite how consuming the common symptoms may feel — they are usually resolved within six months from the time the related stressful life event(s) take place. 

The symptoms may also be worked out when the life stressors or the outcomes associated with them are removed, according to the Official Journal of the World Psychiatric Association.

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Causes of Situational Depression

If you are experiencing situational depression, any number of social issues or major life changes may be to blame for your condition. 

These include risk factors such as:

  • Divorce

  • Loss of a job

  • Financial difficulties

  • The passing of a loved one

  • An unstable living situation

  • Domestic difficulties 

  • Natural disasters

  • Bullying at work or school

 This mental health issue may also be a direct response to a major illness like cancer or heart disease. 

The chances of developing situational depression are also higher in cases when there is a family history of depression.

Situational Depression Treatment Options

Despite being a commonly self-resolving condition, the impact of living with situational depression can be so strong that it negatively affects your quality of life. 

It can severely disrupt normal activities as well as typically happy life experiences.

As with other forms of depression, situational depression is very treatable, with a number of coping mechanisms to choose from. 

Treatment plans include:

Therapy

Psychotherapy is one of the most effective ways to manage issues that affect mental health and wellbeing. 

Speaking with a mental health professional can provide different methods and coping skills to help manage the disappointment and sadness stemming from a stressful event.

In-person or online counseling or online psychiatry may also help change negative ways of thinking into more positive beliefs about life and personal abilities. This may be learned through behavioral therapy sessions. 

For those living with a family member or loved one struggling with affective disorders, data published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews indicates family therapy may teach the appropriate care for all family members involved to properly cope with the change.

It’s also easy to find psychiatric evaluations, personal therapy, and anonymous support groups online, to help manage mental health challenges.

Medication

One of the most common ways to treat depression is through specifically tailored medication. 

Antidepressants can help improve the way mood-affecting chemicals such as serotonin and norepinephrine are processed by the brain. 

This can help boost your frame of mind.

Likewise, the Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry says that anti-anxiety drugs can help ease symptoms of anxiety such as trembling, irritability and restlessness which can sometimes accompany cases of depression.

Electroconvulsive Therapy

In special cases when antidepressants or therapy — or even a combination of the two -- don’t seem to provide relief from situational depression, brain-stimulating therapies may help deliver improvement.

ECT involves painless electric shocks to the brain to help produce more mood-improving chemicals like serotonin and norepinephrine. According to an article in Clinical Psychopharmacology and Neuroscience, ECT can also encourage the production of new brain cells.

To find what would work best for you and your condition, it is important to consult with a mental health professional before beginning treatment.

Psychotherapy, medication and shock therapy may all help, depending on your condition, yet there’s another treatment for situational depression that can benefit both your mental and physical health: Positive lifestyle changes. 

This involves engaging in physical activities like regular exercise or hobbies like hiking, allowing others to provide help and comfort in your times of need and keeping your expectations in check, focusing on gradual improvement as far as your symptoms are concerned.

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Living with Situational Depression

Mourning the loss of a loved one, marriage or career that could have been can be extremely challenging. 

And with a mental disorder like situational depression, this hardship can take on a more severe tone.

However, like other types of depression, situational depression is treatable and doesn’t have to permanently affect your quality of life. 

Through therapy, medication, or even positive lifestyle changes, it’s possible for noticeable signs of depression to improve.

For best results, seek medical advice from a healthcare provider or qualified mental health professional to find the best avenue for your treatment.

5 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. Ballenger, J. C. (2000, June). Anxiety and depression: Optimizing treatments. Primary care companion to the Journal of clinical psychiatry. Retrieved September 21, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC181112/.
  2. Casey, P., & Bailey, S. (2011, February). Adjustment disorders: The state of the art. World psychiatry : official journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA). Retrieved September 21, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3048515/.
  3. Churchill, et al. (2007, July 18). Family therapy for depression. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews. Retrieved September 21, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6769152/.
  4. Singh, A., & Kar, S. K. (2017, August 31). How electroconvulsive therapy works?: Understanding the neurobiological mechanisms. Clinical psychopharmacology and neuroscience : the official scientific journal of the Korean College of Neuropsychopharmacology. Retrieved September 21, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5565084/.
  5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Depression. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved September 21, 2021, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.