Situational Depression – What It Is And What To Do About It
By Julia Thomas
Updated May 21, 2020
Reviewer Dawn Brown
Bad things happen to everyone at some point in their lives. If you're resilient, you get over these unhappy or stressful situations quickly and get back to living your life. If not, your sadness may linger and begin to affect your daily functioning for a while. Anyone who faces difficult life changes may benefit from learning about situational depression.
What Is Situational Depression?
In a way, the name "situational depression" speaks for itself. It refers to a kind of depression that happens after a traumatic event, a stressful situation, or a major life change. The depression is directly related to the trauma, stress, or change.
Situational depression is also a common name for a specific type of adjustment disorder. "Adjustment disorder" is also somewhat self-explanatory. If you have it, that means you are having trouble adjusting to something that's recently come into your life. There are many kinds of adjustment disorders, but the one that most closely relates to situational depression is adjustment disorder with depressed mood.
Is Situational Depression Real Depression?
Although situational depression is medically termed as adjustment disorder, it can still be a significant mental health problem that feels very much like clinical depression. It can affect your personal life, your job, and your relationships. Even if it resolves quickly, you may be left with troubles that built up while you were feeling sad and overwhelmed.
What Triggers Situational Depression?
Unlike other forms of depression, the situational kind is always triggered by some recent event or situation. The one thing all situational depression triggers have in common is that they're all major life changes. Triggers can be positive or negative life events, but they're typically dramatic. Some triggers include:
- 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
- Being assaulted
What Are the Symptoms?
The symptoms of situational depression usually manifest within three months of the triggering event. Situational depression may come with one or several of the following symptoms:
- Feeling sad and crying frequently
- Feeling hopeless and helpless
- Losing interest in things you used to enjoy
- Feeling worried or jittery
- Having trouble sleeping
- Problems concentrating
- Losing your appetite
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Impaired daily functioning
- Withdrawing from your support system
- Avoiding things that seem hard, like going to work
- Suicidal thoughts
How Long Does It Last?
Situational depression often only lasts a very short time, but it can last much longer in some cases. Nearly all cases of situational depression can be classified as acute or persistent adjustment disorder. It can also develop into a more serious mental illness.
If you have acute adjustment disorder, your symptoms will typically last six months or less. If your situational depression is related to an ongoing stressor, the symptoms will ease up when that stressor is eliminated.
If you have persistent situational depression, the symptoms hold on and last more than six months.
What Happens if It Doesn't Go Away?
In some cases, situational depression leads to major clinical depression. Although you may or may not need treatment for adjustment disorder if it resolves quickly, you most certainly do need help if you have major clinical depression.
If you feel you have situational depression and it's hanging on or even getting worse, your condition may be developing into a major depression. Watch for these symptoms of major depressive disorder:
- Weight loss or gain
- Sleeping too much or too little
- No appetite or eating too much
- Restless or irritability
- Low energy
- Feeling worthless
- An inappropriate feeling of guilt
- Trouble making choices and decisions
- Finding no pleasure at all in any activities
- Recurring thoughts of suicide
- Delusions or hallucinations
Treatment for Situational Depression
Getting treatment for situational depression can help you recover faster and avoid long-term mental health problems. Generally, treatment for adjustment disorders is relatively short, usually only a few months. The two main types of treatment are psychotherapy and medications.
Doesn't Situational Depression Go Away on Its Own?
In some cases, situational depression does go away without treatment. People who suffer from this disorder because of a stressful situation often get better quickly once they're out of the situation or the situation improves. Or in the case of a traumatic event, they may recover as time passes. However, situational depression doesn't always go away so easily. That's when treatment becomes most important.
Psychotherapy can help with situational depression. Just getting a chance to talk about the traumatic event or stressful situation can help. This emotional support may prove critical in helping you recover. As you explore why the event affected you so deeply, you can come to a greater understanding of yourself and your situation. This helps you heal faster. Your therapist can also help you find your way back to your normal routine. In addition, you can learn coping skills to deal with the stress.
Talking to a therapist may make the difference between having a short-term adjustment disorder and sinking into a major long-term depression. Counselors may be available to help where you live. Or if you would like the convenience and comfort of online therapy, you can talk to a therapist through BetterHelp. Either way, getting help from a therapist can improve your condition significantly.
Medications aren't always needed 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 prescribe anti-anxiety medications as well.
One thing to remember is that once you're taking a psychiatric medication, it's crucial that you don't stop taking it abruptly. Before you stop, talk to your doctor about it. They may want to reduce your dose gradually to avoid discontinuation syndrome, which can cause symptoms like nausea, insomnia, balance problems, and flu-like symptoms. This doesn't mean you'll have to stay on it forever. It only means that you need to continue taking it in the right way while still under the care of your doctor.
What You Can Do for Yourself
Whether you seek treatment or not, there are many ways you can help yourself recover from situational depression.
Taking good care of your physical health can help you fight the effects of situational depression. Get the right amount of sleep, eat the right amounts of healthy foods, and get enough exercise every day. You'll feel both mentally and physically stronger and better able to deal with your emotional problems.
Social support is more important than ever during this difficult time. Seek out healthy support from friends and family members who are positive and helpful. Connecting with other people can give you opportunities to talk about your feelings. Talking to a close friend or family member about the issue may make you feel heard as well as give you ideas about how to feel better. Being with other people may also offer a way to get your mind off your troubles and enjoy the company of other friendly people.
Another thing you can do is to occupy yourself with something every day that makes you feel happy and fulfilled. Accomplishing something that matters to you can help improve your mood and get you back into the swing of things. 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.
Be positive and hopeful whenever you can. Although any kind of depression can make this harder, you always have a certain amount of choice in how you view the world. Try to get into a positive mindset, and you're more likely to see the situation as something you can manage effectively.
Now is also a good 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 the strengths you have as an individual, how are you best equipped to handle it? Once you focus on that, you can do what works for you.
One thing you can do to keep the depression from getting worse and possibly avoid mental health issues later on is to stop avoiding your problems. Instead, think about how you can address any problems that come up as they happen. Remember that avoiding a problem usually doesn't make it go away. In fact, it may compound the problem. So, it's important to face your problems when they occur.
Your friends and family provide a casual social support system that can be very beneficial to you. However, when you're facing a difficult 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 death of a loved one, it might help if you go to a grief support group.
Situational depression can be difficult to live with. Even though it often resolves fairly quickly, it can be extremely painful while you're in it. If it lasts longer, it can lead to a major depression. You may be able to recover from an adjustment disorder without any additional help. However, if you do need help, there are many ways to get it both in your community and online. All that matters is that you do what works for you to regain your mental well-being as quickly as possible.