Everyone experiences traumas in life, whether it’s the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship that lasted five years, or being laid off from work. These stressful experiences are sometimes very difficult to cope with and can lead to the development of a depression spectrum disorder. A common condition people may experience when they have trouble handling a negative event is situational depression. Below we will further explain what situational depression is, symptoms one may experience, issues related to this type of depression, and what one can do to recover from it.
Please keep in mind that this article should not be used as a definitive resource. Seek the advice of a mental health care professional for any symptoms that are too much to deal with or interfering with daily life.
What Is Situational Depression?
Situational depression is short-term depression that occurs in response to a traumatic experience or life-changing event, such as divorce, death of a close friend or relative, job loss, and retirement. It is sometimes incorrectly referred to as adjustment disorder, a short-term condition in which one has difficulty coping a stress. Adjustment disorder, also called stress response syndrome, doesn’t involve many of the emotional and physical symptoms of depression. Situational depression usually disappears once one has adjusted to their new situation. Most people recover within three to six months, but it may take longer for others.
Symptoms of Situational Depression
Those who are suffering from this depression spectrum disorder usually have a depressed mood and feelings of hopelessness. Situational depression typically develops within 90 days of the stressful event that triggers it. Some people experience symptoms that last longer than six months. This is particularly true if another stressful event occurs during the recovery period. However, most cases clear up within 3-6 months. Symptoms of this type of depression may include:
- Feeling hopeless;
- Loss of concentration;
- Recurring bouts of crying;
- Withdrawal from friends and family;
- Unfocused anxiety;
- Unfocused worry;
- Withdrawal from normal leisure activities;
- Suicidal thoughts;
- Heart palpitations;
- Changes in sleeping or eating habits;
According to Kathleen Franco, MD, “If emotional and behavioral symptoms reduce normal functioning in social or occupational arenas, it should be treated.”
Causes of Situational Depression
Essentially, any event that overwhelms one’s ability to cope can cause situational depression. Examples of situations that can cause this type of depression are, divorce, death of a loved one, childbirth, and surviving a natural disaster. Elements Behavioral Health explains it well: “Situational depression occurs when you haven’t yet adapted to the changes brought about by these situations and incorporated them into your overall life experiences.”
Other Issues That Relate to Situational Depression
The symptoms of this type of depression are mostly the same as those of clinical depression. One of the key differences is people who are suffering from clinical depression have at least five of the symptoms simultaneously. Major depression, another term for clinical depression, also tends to recur over extended periods of time. Situational depression that goes untreated can turn into clinical depression, so it’s not something one should ignore.
Another possible condition one may have when experiencing symptoms of this type of depression is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a disorder in which one experiences persistent mental and emotional stress in response to severe psychological shock or injury. People who have PTSD tend to vividly recall the traumatic experience, further disturbing their mental state and quality of sleep. Post-traumatic stress disorder can take a month or longer to develop, making it more important to see a therapist if you’ve been experiencing symptoms of this type of depression or trauma. Early treatment can prevent more serious disorders like PTSD and major depression from developing.
Sometimes people mistake grief or sadness as depression. It’s normal to feel sadness or grief after losing a loved one or ending a relationship. However, these feelings are not persistent for two weeks or longer as they are in depression. Another important difference is self-esteem is maintained when a person goes through grief. People who suffer from depression usually have decreased self-esteem.
Situational Depression Treatment Options
Mild cases of situational depression disappear when one takes certain actions to minimize the symptoms and its effect. Treatments that alleviate symptoms of situational depression include regular exercise, nutritional meals, and maintaining a regular sleep schedule. Patients with situational depression also benefit from engaging in leisure activities and talking to friends and family about their situation. Some people find it helpful to join a formal support group.
Cases in which symptoms either seriously disrupt one’s life or persist for extended periods should be handled by a professional mental health care provider. A therapist will be able to help one overcome the depression and return to normal life. Those who have severe situational depression symptoms may be prescribed anti-depressants or anti-anxiety drugs.
Situational depression may occur when one goes through a stressful or life-changing event that they have trouble adjusting to. Those who experience any symptoms of this type of depression are encouraged to see a health care professional if they persist or interfere with daily life. Situational depression that goes untreated can develop into more serious mental health conditions, such as clinical depression and PTSD. Early treatment makes a huge difference and can save one a lot of emotional turmoil.
People who notice a loved one with symptoms of situational depression should ask them if anything has been tough on them lately to encourage a discussion about what’s going on. Those who are suffering from situational depression can usually overcome it through counseling, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, and maintaining a consistent sleep schedule.
Have you ever experienced situational depression? Were you aware that was what you had? Let us know in the comments below how you overcame it.
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