How Is Reactive Depression Different From Other Depressions?

Updated April 5, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Have you ever experienced an event that caused significant emotional trauma?  Have you ever experienced an event that caused significant emotional trauma? If so, seeking the help of a trained professional in reactivity psychology may be beneficial in learning to manage and cope with the effects of such an experience. Did it leave you feeling like it was impossible to move forward with life?  Perhaps you’re tired, can’t eat, are constantly fatigued, and just have an overall sense of emptiness.

Do You Think You Have Reactive Depression?

You don’t want to feel like this, and others think you should have moved past it by now, but you just can’t seem to care anymore. Is it grief, or could it be something more?

Grief can be overwhelming.  It can leave you feeling paralyzed or unable to respond emotionally to life.  When the pain associated with grief becomes too great and the sadness does not seem to lift, this could be the sign of a condition known as reactive depression, a subtype of adjustment disorder.

Reactive depression, also called situational depression, is a type of clinical depression.  It occurs when a person’s attempts to cope with the emotional changes and negative impacts of a traumatic event are not effective and they are unable to overcome the sadness or depression.

What Is Reactive Depression?

According to the fifth Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), reactive depression is an adjustment disorder triggered by a traumatic event, a stressful situation, or an external problem. This could be anything from difficult life circumstances to traumatic events, such as physical assault or a natural disaster. According to Choosing Therapy, reactive depression is not a formal diagnosable condition. Instead, the term describes the adverse psychological reactions that people experience as a result of stress-related situations.

Other types of depression, such as major depressive disorder, are different because they may occur for any number of reasons, including a family history of depression or other biological factors. Depression and depressive symptoms are common, and the World Health Organization estimates that 5% of people have it globally. 

Unlike most other types of depression, which can last for years if not properly managed, reactive depression is a type of clinical depression that typically lasts a few months. However, symptoms can be traumatizing, acute, or severe during this time. Some events that can trigger this may include:

  • The death of a loved one

  • The end of a relationship

  • The loss of a job

  • A car accident

  • Some kind of rejection

There’s no way to predict which events will cause reactive depression in any one person because everyone identifies and handles stress differently.

How Reactive Depression Differs From Grief

Some of the situations that cause reactive depression, such as the death of a loved one, are also situations where it’s normal to suffer from grief and experience anxiety and stress. Therefore, it’s not surprising that depressive symptoms and grief overlap. This can make it difficult to tell when you’re experiencing normal grief and when it’s become something else.

Normal grief symptoms include numbness, bitterness, detachment, irritability, digestive problems, sore muscles, headaches, and fatigue. Stress and anxiety throughout the day are also normal for grief. These are also symptoms that a person with reactive depression can experience. So how do you know if you’re experiencing an appropriate level of grief or if you’ve become depressed in response to an event?

Normal grief can make it difficult for you to continue your daily activities for a while. However, normal grief also adapts and generally lessens as time goes by, unlike anxiety disorders or major depressive disorders that go untreated. If you’ve been living in a state of grief for a long period, then it’s possible that you’ve moved from grief to depression. Fortunately, there are things you can do to cope and move forward from depressive symptoms and a depressed mood.

Treatment Options

If you’re experiencing the signs and symptoms of reactive depression, it’s important to seek help. Depression of any type is very treatable, and there is no reason to suffer silently. Typical treatment options include psychotherapy, self-care, social support, support groups, and antidepressants. 

The best treatment plan might involve more than one treatment option, such as a support group for grief along with one-on-one counseling to develop strategies for coping with mood changes, anxiety, and stress. Self-care should be a part of every person’s plan, but medication may or may not be a good fit. You'll want to figure out the combination that works for you. It’s also likely that you’ll benefit from other coping techniques, such as getting exercise, eating better, establishing good sleeping habits, and designating time for rest.

What To Expect From Counseling

During counseling sessions and treatment of any kind, you’ll be assessed first. It may not be clear that you are experiencing depression when the treatment begins. When you meet with your therapist for treatment, you will talk about your experiences with depression or similar emotions.

It’s also important to mention your mental health history, genetics, and family connections to depression because this information will help your therapist identify your condition for treatment. Suppose you’ve had multiple experiences with depression or have had family who have struggled with depression. In that case, you may be experiencing a different form of depression, such as major depressive disorder or clinical depression. Knowledge of family history, relevant experience, and past treatment is crucial for care and diagnosis.

However, if you can identify a specific stressful event that occurred around the same time your depression began, you may be diagnosed with reactive depression and offered options for treatment. With your therapist, you may work on identifying how anxiety and stress are manifesting for you, develop strategies for coping with your symptoms, and you may be connected with support groups. Support groups can be helpful for reactive depression because it often helps to share with people who have been through a similar traumatic event, such as the loss of a loved one.

Some of the strategies for overcoming your depression may include stress management techniques, sleep management techniques, and self-care routines. You may need to try several different things before finding the right combination of tools. Strategies are not one size fits all.

Online therapy has been a successful venue for many individuals who have depression. Online cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) can be particularly helpful in changing a person's negative thoughts after a traumatic event and changing them to more positive ones. Research has shown that online CBT can be just as effective as in-person CBT, if not more effective. 

BetterHelp provides online counseling to help you through your reactive depression or any other mental disorders you are experiencing. The site complies with the same therapeutic standards as you would experience with traditional therapy. Once you sign up, BetterHelp will work hard to find the therapist that is the right fit for you and your needs. BetterHelp therapists are available anytime or anywhere via messaging, phone, or video chat, so you can get help whenever and wherever you need it.

Do You Think You Have Reactive Depression?

Read below for some counselor reviews from people choosing therapy and treatment for issues similar to reactive depression.

“Ryan came into my life when I was lost, depressed, anxious, and stressed. His help was available straight away, which is exactly what I needed when the situation felt hopeless, and I could avail it from the comfort of my own home… Ryan responds quickly, really listens, and is non-judgmental, compassionate, and warm. He doesn’t do the work for you but gives you the best tools possible to tackle the issues and ideas to think about.”

“Buddy is a complete professional; as somebody who has always been skeptical of therapy, Buddy immediately made me feel at ease and was able to help me articulate my exact concerns. I would highly recommend Buddy to any of my friends. Everybody needs a Buddy.”


It's natural to feel grief after a traumatic event, but if you don’t feel like yourself or if someone you know has expressed concerns about your situation, you can get help. Reactive depression (situational depression) is a treatable condition. Even if you’re experiencing normal grief, there are treatment options that can help you recover healthily.

Reactive depression is very similar to other forms of depression, but it’s caused by a specific situation. It shouldn’t last long, but you don’t have to just wait for it to pass. You can take action. You can seek support from family, friends, or professionals. Talking through what you've gone through and finding strategies to relieve your symptoms can be a step toward moving on and getting back to your life.

Below are some commonly asked questions on this topic:

What is meant by reactive depression?
What is an example of reactive depression?
What is the difference between reactive depression and endogenous depression?
What is reactive depression NHS?
How do you beat reactive depression?
What is a reactive mood?
What are the 3 levels of depression?
Can depression be on and off?
Are there different levels of depression?
What is psychogenic depression?

You Don’t Have To Face Depression Alone. Our Experienced Counselors Can Help.

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