What is situational depression? Situational depression may also be referred to as adjustment disorder, and it’s a type of depression that is triggered by some type of significant change or traumatic life event.
This differs from major depressive disorder, which is what most people think of when they think of clinical depression. Major depressive disorder can’t necessarily be traced to a specific trigger or cause the way that situational depression can. Otherwise, the two types of depression may look and feel similar.
Take a look at what you need to know about making it through situational depression and coming out on the other side of it.
What Causes Situational Depression?
Situational depression can usually be traced to a specific event in a depressed person’s life. Some common causes include a divorce, a death in the family, a move, a job loss, a health crisis, or a patch of financial troubles.
Different people react differently to different types of changes, so something that kicks off a bout of situational depression in one person may not have the same effect on another person.
For example, one family member might feel excited and positive about a big move, while another may become depressed because of the move.
This can happen when a family moves for work-related reasons – a parent who is starting a new job or receiving a promotion may be very happy about the move, while a child or teenager who is leaving their friends and starting over at a new school may experience depression. If you’re the parent, it’s important to understand that while you might view the change as a positive thing – or at worst, a temporary setback for your child – to your child the move may be a real source of trauma.
Sometimes situational depression can be caused by a combination of factors. A health crisis, for example, may cause financial hardship, and while the person experiencing these troubles may not have become depressed because of a health crisis alone or a financial problem alone, the combination of the two may cause depression.
It’s not uncommon for some types of life events to have a cascading effect. Health problems may affect a person’s job situation or drain their savings, losing a spouse may complicate the widow’s financial situation or housing stability, a student athlete’s injury might not only cause them pain but may also affect their college prospects.
Life events don’t happen in a vacuum – they affect other aspects of life and can lead to more problems, and when problems or upsetting events seem to be piling up, it can be easy for a person to begin to feel that their life is out of their control and become depressed.
Symptoms of Situational Depression
The symptoms of situational depression are similar to the symptoms of other types of depression. Symptoms can include:
- Changes in eating or sleeping habits
- Lack of pleasure in activities once previously enjoyed
- Feeling nervous or anxious
- Physical symptoms like headache, stomachache, or body pain
- Loss of interest in social activities, school, or work
- Alcohol or drug use
Situational depression may not end just because the situation has resolved. For example, someone who loses their job may still feel depressed even after they’ve found a new job. Someone who’s been the victim of a crime may still feel depressed even after the criminal is caught and prosecuted.
Coping With Situational Depression
Just because situational depression is triggered by a specific event doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be taken just as seriously as depression caused by a chemical imbalance. Situational depression doesn’t always resolve itself, and if left untreated, it could lead to a more severe form of depression.
People who use alcohol or drugs to cope with situational depression are also at risk of developing a dependence on substances.
There are a number of steps that people who have situational depression can take to help themselves cope with their depression, but people experiencing severe symptoms should also consider seeking out counseling or therapy.
Professional therapy, and in some cases, medication for depression, can be instrumental in helping a person overcome clinical depression.
Other coping mechanisms that can help include:
Increasing positive experiences – Make time and space to include small things that make you happy into your daily life, whether that means buying your favorite coffee drink in the morning or taking a walk on the beach at night.
Avoid isolation – Don’t suffer in silence. Identify sympathetic friends or family members, and talk to them about how you feel. Ask for company. When people who care about you call or come by to check on you, talk to them or let them in. Don’t be afraid to ask the people in your life for their support during a difficult time.
Reframe your internal monologue – It’s easy to fall into a pattern of negative self-talk when you’re depressed, and that negativity can help keep you feeling depressed. Work on reframing the way that you talk to yourself.
- Start small. For example, you can replace the word “can’t” with “won’t”. “I can’t get out of bed today,” becomes “I won’t get out of bed today.” Though it may not seem like it, this is an improvement. “Can’t” means you have no power. “Won’t” means that you’re making a choice.
- Once you’re in the mindset of making choices, it becomes easier to make more of them. “I won’t get out of bed today. But I will call a friend.”
- Next, try changing “can’t” to “could”. “I could get out of bed today.” Your thoughts are powerful. Thinking that you can do something can be enough to inspire you to do it.
Notice what’s working – take some time every day to focus on what is going right. Write down something that you’re grateful for, something good that you did that day or something that worked out the way that you wanted it to. When you’re depressed, it’s easy to focus on the negative, but it’s unlikely that everything is going wrong every day. This exercise forces you to focus on what is working until looking for the positive becomes a habit.
Commonly Asked Questions
Is Situational Depression Preventable?
Unfortunately because situational depression is triggered so abruptly, it would be untrue to say that it’s preventable. If you or someone you know is experiencing trauma/change, reach out.
What’s Involved in the Recovery Process?
Coping mechanisms that can aid situational depression include: surrounding one’s self with sympathetic family and friends, turning negative self-talk into constructive criticism, doing the little things that make you happy, and acknowledging what works for you.
Can Situational Depression Progress Into Major Depressive Disorder?
Yes. If left untreated situational depression can expand to forms of clinical depression. If you or a loved one are experiencing severe symptoms, seek medical attention to find a solution.
Ask For Help
Situational depression is difficult, but it can be overcome. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for professional help and also for emotional help and support from people in your life while you work through it.