Understanding Situational Depression — Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

November 4, 2021

As opposed to clinical depression, medically known as major depressive disorder, situational depression is a type of adjustment disorder. It is usually short-term and associated with stress and stressful situations. According to statistics, this subtype of depression can impact people of all ages, genders, races, and nationalities. A prevalence rate of around 1-2% of situational depression was recorded among the general population of the US.

This article relates a detailed account of Situational Depression and Adjustment disorder? Along with its symptoms, causes, and trusted treatment methods. 

What is Situational Depression?

Situational depression is a lesser-known subtype of depression. Not officially recognized clinically, it can be characterized as an adjustment disorder

Situational depression is usually a result of severe trauma that can transpire in the form of situational depression. It is common for people to complain about being depressed or extremely sad, fearful, hopeless following a stressful event, such as a breakup, loss of a loved one, etc., This may be referred to as situational depression because its primary cause can be traced back to a sudden, unpredicted, distressing situation. Situational depression can not only have detrimental effects on one’s mental health, but it can also be very damaging to one’s social, school, and work life. 

Situational Depression

As opposed to major depressive disorder, situational depression is usually short-lived and disappears once a person has learned to adjust to his/her situation. Since it is literally known as an ‘adjustment disorder with depressed mood’; to understand this subtype of depression better, one should have an understanding of what an adjustment disorder is:

What is an Adjustment Disorder? 

Each and every human has been through some sort of traumatic or stressful event in life, but luckily most of them are able to cope with it rather promptly. However, when a person is unable to move past their traumas and continues dwelling on them, it can in turn impact their emotions and behaviors in an adverse manner. This is when an adjustment disorder originates. It is triggered when a major, out-of-the-ordinary alteration occurs in a person’s life, provoking distress, and issues with adjusting and adapting to the situation. 

This prolonged negative reaction is unhealthy, extreme, and harmful for a person’s mental stability and peace, and usually, the reaction is far more intense than the situation would elicit in a healthy individual. On top of personal life, social life can also become a victim to it as it starts meddling with everyday life and activities.

Types of Adjustment Disorder

There are six subtypes of adjustment disorders, each related to one another but posing certain distinct symptoms. These are officially recognized as:

  1. Adjustment disorder with depressed mood: This subcategory includes classic symptoms of depression, such as, feelings of hopelessness, frequent tearfulness, and losing interest in activities you otherwise enjoyed. Situational depression falls into this subcategory.

  1. Adjustment disorder with anxiety: This kind of adjustment disorder poses most of the symptoms related to anxiety, such as, feeling overwhelmed, and worried, along with issues with concentration, focus, and memory. In children, it is associated with separation anxiety.

  1. Adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depression: This transpires as a combination of the first two subtypes.

  1. Adjustment disorder with disturbance of conduct: This subcategory is associated with behavioral issues, such as recklessness, impulsiveness, etc. Among teens, it may present with indications of recklessness, such as careless behavior, skipping school, vandalizing property, and in extreme cases, getting involved in substance abuse.

  1. Adjustment disorder with mixed disturbance of emotions and conduct: This subtype may include symptoms related to depression, anxiety, as well as behavioral issues.

  1. Adjustment disorder unspecified: People diagnosed with this subtype of adjustment disorder do not display symptoms relating to any of the other subtypes. They usually include symptoms related to their social life.

Symptoms of Situational Depression 

Situational depression triggered due to some sudden stressful event can be identified easily. Following are some common symptoms of situational depression:

Situational depression can often cause physical symptoms as well;

  • Frequent headaches.
  • Stomach issues.
  • Fatigue.
  • Heart palpitations.
  • Unexplained body aches.
  • Trembling and twitching.

Causes of Situational Depression

As the name suggests, situational depression transpires as a result of an extremely stressful situation that a person fails to move past or adapt to. The symptoms may or may not develop within three months of the traumatic event. Common events that may trigger situational depression include:

  • Loss/ death of a loved one.
  • Losing a job.
  • Breakups.
  • Marital issues/ Divorce.
  • Financial problems.
  • Issues at school or work.
  • A traumatic injury.
  • Natural disasters.
  • Dealing with a chronic illness (of yourself, your child, or a loved one)
  • Facing rejection.

Sometimes, positive changes in life can cause situational depression as well. Such as, adjusting to the arrival of a new baby or moving houses or to a new place, etc. Situational depression is common among children as well, triggered by situations such as loss of a pet, parent, parent’s divorce, an illness in the family, arrival of a new sibling, etc.  

Risk Factors of Situational Depression

There are certain factors that may increase the susceptibility of developing situational depression among certain individuals.

Treatment Methods of Situational Depression 

If you successfully identify your situational depression once symptoms begin presenting within three months of a significant life-changing event, diagnosis and treatment can begin. In mild cases of situational depression, active treatment may not be required and symptoms may diminish with certain lifestyle changes such as,

Healthy Eating: Healthy eating is extremely important to maintain a good mood and mental health. Cutting out junk foods that are high in refined sugar, saturated fats, and processed foods, and replacing them with nutritious food can help combat depression.

Managing Sleep: Sleep becomes depression’s first victim as you find yourself lying awake, unable to calm your mind, resulting in daytime fatigue and stress. Developing a calm and consistent sleep routine can help keep stress, fatigue, and depression at bay.

Meditation: Meditation is a proven method to battle mental health disorders, such as anxiety and stress as it includes activities that are soothing to the mind, such as, deep breathing exercises, yoga, positive affirmations, etc.

Regular Exercise: Since depression leaves you inactive, lethargic, and diminishes energy levels, following a strict exercise routine to maintain mental and physical health is necessary. A simple 30-minute workout every day can work wonders for your mental and physical health.

In severe cases of situational depression, when mere lifestyle changes fail to have a positive impact, professional help may be required. A thorough diagnosis and testing to rule out other serious conditions can help doctors determine what kind of treatment may be the most beneficial for your condition. 

Psychotherapy is usually the go-to therapy method for treating situational depression. More specifically, Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), the gold standard of psychotherapy is known to effectively deal with anxiety, stress, and depression. 

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Situational Depression

Cognitive-behavioral therapy can be employed to effectively treat all kinds of depression by allowing the individual to process his or her situation in a soothing environment, encouraging them to process how their stressors may have impacted them negatively.

This intervention method is especially helpful because it can encourage resilience and problem-solving among the patients while making sure that future relapses can be easily dealt with. 

Other treatment methods may include anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medications prescribed by your healthcare provider. Often they will be paired with psychotherapy to ensure the best results.

Mooditude features Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), the gold standard of talk therapy, combined with goals, routines, guided journaling, mood tracking, and clinically-developed courses into a comprehensive solution.

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