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What Is Situational Depression?

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on July 08, 2021

When a stressful event triggers a period of depression, it’s called situational depression. It’s common and you may have experienced it at some point in your life.

Situational depression is different from clinical depression. Here are the differences, and what you should know about each type of depression.

How It’s Different From Clinical Depression

Situational depression may feel similar to clinical, or major depression, but it’s different.

Situational depression is caused by a stressful or traumatic event. Your symptoms, which may be similar to symptoms of clinical depression, are a reaction to the event. They may show up within a few months, as you try to manage the changes that are happening.

Clinical depression is a mood disorder that may happen with or without a specific stressor. The most common symptom is a depressed mood that you have on most days, for a long time. It’s usually more severe than situational depression and typically lasts longer.

Symptoms of situational depression may include:

  • Anger
  • Appetite changes
  • Constant fear or worry
  • Difficulty carrying out tasks
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Frequent crying
  • Grief
  • Hopelessness
  • Loss of interest in normal activities
  • Overwhelming feelings from stress or anxiety
  • Sadness

Situational depression often improves after enough time passes after the stressful event. You may notice your mood improve and things start to look up.

Clinical depression, on the other hand, may get in the way of your life for a long time. It may disrupt your sleep, eating habits, lifestyle, and work. With clinical depression, you have a higher risk of suicide.

If situational depression goes on a long time and you don’t treat it, it may turn into clinical depression.

What Causes Situational Depression

Many life events can trigger situational depression. Some are traumatic. Others may be happy events that represent major life changes.

Typical triggers include:

  • Car accident
  • Divorce
  • Experiencing a crime
  • Family problems
  • Global pandemic like COVID-19
  • Having a baby
  • Illness or difficult diagnosis
  • Loss of a family member, friend, or pet
  • Loss of a job
  • Moving
  • Natural disaster
  • Relationship problems
  • Retirement
  • School-related issues
  • Starting a new job
  • Work-related issues

What to Do About Situational Depression

Situational depression may go away on its own, after time passes and you get used to your new situation. But there are things you can do to improve your feelings of sadness and manage stress.

Strategies include:

  • Eating well
  • Exercising
  • Expressing your feelings
  • Mindful meditation
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Slow, deep breathing
  • Spending time in nature
  • Writing in a journal

When to See a Doctor

If your situational depression lasts longer than a few weeks and doesn’t seem to get better, talk to a doctor or professional therapist.

They can help you figure out if you’re going through a rough patch of sadness or if it’s situational or clinical depression.

A therapist can give you space to talk about what you’re going through and create a treatment plan that includes a combination of support, education, and coping tools. They may recommend a combination of psychotherapy and medication.

To find a therapist, talk to your primary care doctor or visit the National Association of Mental Illness at nami.org.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Cleveland Clinic: “Feeling Down Lately? It Might Be Situational Depression.”

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance: “Can you explain the difference between situational depression and clinical depression?”

National Alliance on Mental Illness: “Situational Symptoms or Serious Depression: What’s the Difference?”

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