The events that we experience everyday trigger our emotions. These emotions vary, they can be positive or can be more negative. Every person occasionally is confronted by painful experiences. This emotional upheaval can be so significant that it out paces the ability to effectively cope with it.Traumatic life events can trigger intense feelings of sadness, loneliness, and grief; this is a normal response. In most cases these feelings lessen as the stressful situation improves. People also adapt to the impact and the changes they create.Sometimes adaptation is too difficult for the individual to achieve without help. When this happens it can lead to displaying symptoms of situational depression. At this point professional intervention is not only beneficial, it is often required. Situational depression can alter a person’s perceptions about their daily life experiences. Left untreated situational depression can progress to other forms of depression.

Understanding Situational Depression

Situational depression is generally defined as a short-term depressive disorder that occurs in the aftermath of a traumatic life change. Symptoms usually develop within 90 days of a traumatic life experience. The more common triggers of situational depression include:

  • A life or death experience like a natural disaster, assault or combat
  • Experiencing a major illness or accident
  • Financial difficulties or job loss
  • Problems at work, home, or school
  • The death of a friend or a family member
  • The processes or finalization of a divorce

Symptoms of Situational Depression

Situational depression can strike when a person’s experiences overwhelm coping mechanisms. Some of the typical symptoms of situational depression include:

  • Changes in sleeping or eating patterns
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Loss of enjoyment of once pleasurable activities
  • Physical symptoms such as stomachache, headaches or heart palpitations
  • Sadness or bouts of crying
  • Social withdrawal
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Worry, anxiety or feeling overwhelmed

Someone experiencing situational depression typically feels more stress than they did prior to the triggering event occurring. Situational depression is often diagnosed when symptoms are determined not to be part of the normal grieving process, and when other forms of depression have been ruled out.

Situational vs. Clinical Depression

While there is considerable overlap between the symptoms of situational depressions and other depressive disorders, there are distinct differences between the two mental health disorders. Those with clinical depression have at least five of the symptoms of depression that last two weeks or more. Their symptoms are serious enough to interfere with or degrade the ability to function in their daily lives. Those with clinical depression often have noted chemical imbalances and may also live with delusions, hallucinations and other types of psychotic disturbances.

Situational depressive disorder is often considered an adjustment disorder, rather than true depression. This is because a person living with situational depression is more likely to be able to continue to effectively function. For mild cases of situational depression, the following suggestions may help alleviate symptoms:

  • Engage in enjoyable activities with family or friends
  • Let others help you by not isolating yourself
  • Join a formal support group
  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule
  • Set realistic goals and expect gradual rather than immediate improvement
  • Try to Exercise, to boost mood-elevating endorphins, even 20 minutes of moderate activity is beneficial
  • Try to spend time and confide in a trusted friend or family member

Treating Situational Depressive Disorder

Left untreated, situational depression can progress to a serious major depressive disorder. Depending on the severity of the condition, situational depression typically responds to counseling or therapy, such as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). The use of antidepressant medication or a combination of medication and counseling can be very effective. If the signs and symptoms of situational depression appear it important to consider the services of a qualified professional, especially if you recognize the following symptoms or behaviors:

  • Missing time at work, school, or avoiding social activities
  • Physical symptoms (heart palpitations stomach aches, or headaches)
  • Significant changes in your eating or sleeping patterns
  • Self-medication (abusing drugs or alcohol to cope with your symptoms)
  • Have thoughts of self-harm or suicide

The goal of the treatment plan for situational depression is to help a person effectively cope with the stressors and get back to feeling like “normal”.

  • Develop new or improved coping skills
  • End any self-destructive patterns or behaviors
  • Have a better understanding of your emotional and mental health
  • Help you learn effective methods of dealing with your symptoms
  • Overcome the fears, insecurities or behaviors that influence your symptoms