How Is Reactive Depression Different From Other Depressions?

By Sarah Cocchimiglio|Updated June 16, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC

Have you ever experienced an event that caused significant emotional trauma?  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.

A woman wearing a red sweater navigates depression.

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?

Even in what some may call its simplest form, grief can be overwhelming.  It can leave you feeling paralyzed or unable to respond emotionally to life.  When the pain associated with grief or the loss of a friend or loved ones becomes great and the sadness does not seem to lift, this could be the sign of a condition known as reactive depression.

Reactive depression, also called situational depression, is a type of clinical depression.  It occurs when a person’s ability to cope with a traumatic event is 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.

“In therapy, you can express your feelings about the event, and you can learn about sleep and stress management techniques to improve your symptoms.”

Other types of depression are different because they may occur for any number of reasons, including a family history of depression or other biological factors. 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 this, such as the death of a loved one, are also situations where it’s normal to suffer from grief. Therefore, it’s not surprising that the symptoms of depression and grief overlap. This can make it difficult to tell when you’re experiencing normal grief and when it’s become something more problematic.

The symptoms of normal grief include numbness, bitterness, detachment, irritability, digestive problems, sore muscles, headaches, and fatigue. 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 go on with your daily activities for a time. However, normal grief also adapts and generally lessens as time goes by. If you’ve been living in a state of grief for a long period of time, then it’s likely that you’ve moved from grief to depression. Fortunately, there are things you can do to cope and move forward.

Symptoms of Reactive Depression

Though the cause of reactive depression differs from the causes of other types of depression, all types of depression have similar symptoms. Common symptoms of reactive depression include:

  • Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or irritability
  • Fatigue and reduced energy
  • Apathy
  • Changes in eating or sleeping routines
  • Social isolation
  • Foggy thinking or rumination
  • Lifestyle changes, such as drinking or smoking more
  • Weight fluctuations
  • Headaches and digestive issues
  • Thoughts of suicide or self-harm**

**If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255, and is available 24/7.

This is not by any means a comprehensive list of depressive symptoms. When you’re dealing with reactive depression, it can feel like nothing in life matters. You might not care about your normal routine, so it might be hard to clean your house, go to work, or pay the bills. You just don’t see a purpose to it. You also lose interest in activities that you used to enjoy.

There are more serious symptoms of reactive depression; some people turn to substance abuse or have suicidal thoughts. As such, this is not something you should try to self-diagnose, and it’s not something that should be taken lightly. After a few therapy sessions, a qualified counselor can determine whether or not this is something you are experiencing. Then you can work together to develop a treatment plan.

Treatment Options

If you’re experiencing 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. For example, self-care should be a part of every person’s plan, but medication may or may not be a good fit. 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 and relaxation.

What to Expect from Counseling

During counseling sessions of any kind, you’ll be assessed first. It may not be clear that you experience depression when the sessions begin. When you meet with your therapist, you will talk about your experiences with depression or emotions similar to it.

It’s also important to mention your mental health history, your genetics, and any family connections to depression because this information will help your therapist identify your condition. If you’ve had multiple experiences with depression or have had family members who have struggled with depression, you may be experiencing a different form of depression, such as major depressive disorder or clinical depression.

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. Talk therapy can be part of your treatment plan. In therapy, you can express your feelings about the event, and you can learn about sleep and stress management techniques to improve your symptoms.

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 perfect therapist that is a right fit for you and your needs.

Do You Think You Have Reactive Depression?

Seeking Help

Counselor Reviews

If you’re looking for support with any type of depression, consider talk therapy with a licensed counselor. Sometimes people who are depressed struggle with the idea of leaving the house to meet with a stranger, but you can also schedule online counseling sessions with a licensed therapist through BetterHelp. They’re available anytime or anywhere via messaging, phone, or video chat, so you can get help whenever and wherever you need it. Read below for some counselor reviews, from people experiencing similar issues.

“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 access it from the comfort of my own home… Ryan responds back quickly, really listens and is non-judgmental, compassionate and warm. He doesn’t do the work for you but rather gives you the best tools possible for you 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.”

Don’t Ignore Your Feelings

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 in a healthy way.

Reactive depression, also known as situational 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 suffer alone. Take the first step today.


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