Situational Depression: What It Is, And What To Do About It

Medically reviewed by Kimberly L Brownridge , LPC, NCC, BCPC
Updated May 18, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Challenging events may happen to us all at some point. How we respond to these events can differ, however. You may find yourself successfully able to move forward from some difficult situations. Other times, you could find it hard to bounce back and feel negatively affected by what you’ve experienced. 

In this case, you might find sadness or hopelessness lingering and affecting your daily functioning temporarily concerning the situation. If you relate, you could benefit from learning about situational depression and discussing it with a professional.

What Is Situational Depression?

The label “situational depression” may speak for itself. It often refers to a type of depression that happens after a traumatic event, a stressful situation, or a significant life change. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual identifies situational depression as a type of adjustment disorder in which people experience depressive symptoms in response to stressful events. In the switch between the statistical manual DSM-IV to DSM-V, the diagnosis of this mental illness now takes into account external and cultural factors in order to identify whether the response to a stressor is out of proportion to what may be expected. The diagnosis also specifies that it is not an exacerbation of another disorder, such as major depressive disorder, also known as clinical depression. Instead, adjustment disorders are viewed as a distinct type of mental health issue which may feature depression symptoms, as well as behavior symptoms in response to a traumatic event for the person experiencing it. 

Situational depression is often used concurrently with:

  • Minor depression
  • Adjustment disorder
  • Seasonal depression
  • Depression after grief

If you are living with situational depression, you may struggle to adjust to a recent event, such as a big move, a loss, or an accident. The symptoms can look like an adjustment disorder. An adjustment disorder present emotional and behavioral symptoms and may significantly impact one's ability to partake in normal activities in everyday life. Common symptoms of this mental health disorder may include feelings of hopelessness, restlessness, fatigue, tearfulness, persistent sadness, and other symptoms. There are several known adjustment disorders, but the one that may relate most closely to situational depression is adjustment disorder with a depressed mood.

What To Do About Situational Depression

Situational depression can be treated effectively with the right tools, resources, and support. Often, it goes away on its own without any intervention, as it is often temporary.  

You might also decide to employ specific strategies to combat symptoms. These could include:

  • Practicing self-care
  • Talking about your feelings with friends or family 
  • Seeing a therapist
  • Practicing meditation or mindfulness
  • Medication

Situational depression may be effectively managed on your own. However, if you find that your symptoms are severe and unwavering, you may seek support from a professional or someone you trust.  

Is Situational Depression Real Depression?

Although situational depression is medically termed an adjustment disorder, it can be a significant mental health problem with similar symptoms to clinical depression. 

Situational depression may affect your personal life, job, and relationships. Even if it resolves quickly, you may be left with troubles or stressors that build up while experiencing depression.  

What Causes Situational Depression?

Unlike other forms of depression, situational depression is often marked by causation related to a recent event or situation. Many triggers of situational depression are significant life changes. The change could be a positive or negative life event but will usually be dramatic or intense in some way. 

For example, you might experience situational depression after the following life events: 

  • Losing your job
  • Getting a divorce
  • The death of a loved one
  • A major illness or injury
  • Going away to school for the first time
  • Having a baby
  • Relationship problems
  • Moving homes
  • Getting married
  • Being assaulted
  • Retirement
  • Going on a long or exciting trip and returning home 

The Symptoms Of Situational Depression

The symptoms of situational depression may manifest within three months of the stressful or traumatic event. Situational depression might come with one or several of the following symptoms:

  • Feeling sad and crying frequently
  • Listlessness
  • Feeling hopeless and helpless
  • Losing interest in things you used to enjoy
  • Feeling worried or jittery
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Struggling to concentrate 
  • Losing your appetite
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Experiencing impaired daily functioning
  • Withdrawing from your support system
  • Avoiding tasks that feel difficult, like going to work
  • Suicidal thoughts

If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, seek help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 and is available 24/7. You can also reach them over SMS by texting 988. 

How Long Does Situational Depression Last?

Situational depression is often temporary, hence its name. However, it may last a significant amount of time in some cases. 

Nearly all cases of situational depression can be classified as acute or persistent adjustment disorder. It may also develop into other mental health conditions, including the following.

Acute Adjustment Disorder 

If you have an acute adjustment disorder, your symptoms may last six months or less. If your situational depression is related to an ongoing stressor, the symptoms might ease up when that stressor is eliminated.

Persistent Adjustment Disorder 

The symptoms may last more than six months if you have a persistent adjustment disorder. In this case, reaching out for professional mental health support could be beneficial. 

What Happens If Situational Depression Doesn’t Go Away? 

In some cases, situational depression may lead to major clinical depression. Although you may not need treatment for adjustment disorder if it resolves quickly, major depression can require clinical support, such as therapy. 

If you feel you have situational depression and it’s hanging on or getting worse, your condition may develop into major depression. 

Watch for these symptoms of major depressive disorder if they occur every day for more than two weeks: 

  • Weight loss or gain
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • No appetite or eating too much
  • Restless or irritability
  • Tiredness
  • Low energy
  • Feeling worthless
  • An inappropriate feeling of guilt
  • Trouble making choices and decisions
  • Finding no pleasure in activities
  • Recurring thoughts of suicide *
  • Delusions or hallucinations
  • Suicidal thoughts

If you or someone close is experiencing an immediate risk for suicide, seek help immediately for suicide prevention. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 and is available 24/7. They can also be reached over SMS by texting 988. 

Treatment For Situational Depression

Situational depression may not require treatment if you feel you can cope with it on your own. However, getting treatment could help you recover faster and avoid long-term mental health problems. Generally, treatment for situational adjustment disorders may only last a few months. The two main types of treatment are psychotherapy and medication.

In some cases, situational depression can go away without treatment. Those who develop this disorder because of a stressful situation often improve once they’re out of the situation or the situation improves. 

In the case of a traumatic event, they may recover as time passes if other trauma-related mental health diagnoses are not present. However, if your symptoms are not improving or you’re struggling independently, you might try the following treatment methods. 


Psychotherapy may be beneficial for symptoms of situational depression. Talking about what occurred with a compassionate counselor may allow you to relieve stress. This emotional support could prove critical in helping you recover. 

As you explore the impacts of the event, you may come to a greater understanding of yourself and your situation. Your therapist might also help you find your way back to your regular routine. 

In addition, therapy often allows you to learn and use healthy coping skills to manage your stress. Talking to a therapist could make the difference between having a short-term adjustment disorder or experiencing long-term depression.


Medications may not be recommended for situational depression. However, your physician or psychiatrist might suggest a short course of antidepressants to lift the depression faster. If anxiety is a part of the problem, they may also prescribe anti-anxiety medications.

Once you start taking psychiatric medication, don’t stop taking it abruptly. Before you stop, talk to your doctor about it. They may want to reduce the dose gradually to avoid discontinuation syndrome, which might cause nausea, insomnia, balance problems, and flu-like symptoms. 

Tapering off your medications can be a safer way to stop using them once your symptoms subside. However, talk to your provider about how to know when stopping your medication is right for you. 

How To Support Yourself With Situational Depression

Whether you seek treatment, there may be ways you can help yourself recover from situational depression. 

Care For Your Physical Health 

Taking care of your physical health can help you fight the effects of situational depression. Get the right amount of sleep, eat healthy foods, and get enough exercise every day. These habits may help you feel mentally and physically stronger and better able to deal with challenging emotions.

Lean On Your Social Circle 

Social support can be highly beneficial, as studies show that social connection can improve mental and physical health. Seek support from friends and family who are positive and available. 

Connecting with other people may allow you opportunities to talk about your feelings. Being with other people may also offer a way to get your mind off your troubles and enjoy the company of positive individuals. 

Stay Occupied 

Consider occupying yourself with an activity daily that makes you feel happy and fulfilled. Accomplishing something that matters to you may improve your mood and get you back into the swing of life. As you focus on something positive, you may regain the feeling of power that you had before the stressful situation made you feel out of control.

Lifestyle changes may also be useful for those experiencing mental disorders such as situational depression. Going for a walk, practicing meditation, eating a healthy diet, have all been found to be beneficial.

Encourage Hope 

Be hopeful whenever you can. Although depression can make this more complicated, you may have a certain amount of choice in how you view the world. Try to get into a positive mindset. You may be able to see the situation as something you can manage with time. Lean on friends and family who can remind you of this.

Build On Your Strengths 

Now may also be a valuable time to recognize and build on your strengths. Focus on the actions you can take to improve your situation or recover from your traumatic event. Given who you are and your strengths as an individual, how are you best equipped to handle it? Once you focus on that, do what works for you.

Join A Support Group 

Your friends and family often provide a casual social support system that can be beneficial. However, when you’re facing a complex problem, it’s often helpful to talk to others who are or have been in similar situations. 

In that case, you might want to get involved with a support group that focuses on problems like the one you’re facing. For example, if your situational depression is related to the seasons changing (seasonal depression), you may benefit from a seasonal depression support group. 

Since depression has been linked with substance abuse, it's also important to seek healthy coping mechanisms to alleviate symptoms. Support groups may also be helpful by providing a healthy outlet in which to share experiences with those who are navigating similar symptoms.

Counseling For Situational Depression 

Situational depression can feel challenging to live with. Although it often resolves quickly, it may cause feelings of stress or hopelessness. If you feel you need support, options are available. 

Counselors specializing in depression may be available where you live. Or, if you want the convenience and comfort of online therapy, you can talk to a therapist through a platform like BetterHelp. Either way, getting help from a therapist may allow you to treat your symptoms effectively. 

Depression can make it challenging to complete daily tasks and even get out of bed in the first place. Online therapy is a preferred option for many as you can still get care without leaving home. You can connect using a Wi-Fi connection and a personal device. 

Online therapy has been proven effective for treating various mental health conditions, like situational depression. One study found that digital Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) reduced barriers to seeking care for depression and anxiety and improved participants’ symptoms. The more time participants spent in the online intervention, the more their symptoms improved.


Situational depression may develop due to various events, situations, and circumstances. While it may go away independently and over time, it could require outside support or treatment. Treatment for situational depression may include psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness, and deep breathing techniques, as these practices address symptoms of situational depression. In some situation, doctors may also suggest medication. 

Prioritizing your well-being and mental health may help you return to feeling hopeful, optimistic, and well. If you want to reach out for support, consider contacting a mental health counselor to discuss your symptoms in detail.

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

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