How to Deal with Situational Depression

November 11, 2020

When a loved one dies, we lose a job, or a relationship ends, most of us experience a degree of sadness, stress, and anxiety around this change to our everyday life. However, some people experience much more severe symptoms associated with negative life events than others. 

Serious depression as a result of a negative life event is known as situational depression. Symptoms are generally not long-lasting, but they can be quite serious for the person experiencing it, and can have impactful consequences on their friends and family as well. 

Here’s what you need to know about how to cope with situational depression.

What is Situational Depression?

Situational depression is also known as adjustment disorder. It comes on in response to an important change in someone’s life. These changes vary dramatically, but they are typically a negative, life-changing event such as the death of a loved one or the end of a relationship. 

Situational depression is not long-lasting, and symptoms often resolve themselves within a few months after the traumatic event occurs. However, it can be very troublesome and stressful for the person experiencing it. 

Some people can easily mistake situational depression for major clinical depression because symptoms are often very similar. However, situational depression is much shorter, and it relates to a specific event rather than being pervasive and unrelated to events in your life.

Triggers for Situational Depression

As the name suggests, situational depression is triggered by a specific event. 

Here are some of the situations that are most commonly responsible for situational depression:

  • Divorce or the end of a long-term relationship
  • The loss of employment
  • Death of a close friend
  • A serious accident
  • Disease diagnosis
  • Significant life changes such as retirement
  • The sudden death of a close relative, especially a parent

Symptoms of Situational Depression 

Many people assume that symptoms of situational depression will occur immediately, but in fact, it often takes up to 90 days after the triggering event for symptoms to occur. It sometimes takes time for your mind to acclimate to the reality of the triggering event in your life.  

This delay is one of the reasons that it can be so easy to mistake situational depression for a major depressive episode. However, situational depression differs significantly from a major depressive episode in that it will typically resolve by itself, whereas major depression typically needs treatment of some kind for symptoms to alleviate significantly. 

When symptoms do appear from situational depression, they often mirror many of the experiences associated with depression at large. Symptoms include:

  • Difficulty sleeping and insomnia
  • Listlessness and feelings of hopelessness and sadness
  • Anxiousness and worry without clear causes
  • Episodes of frequent crying, sometimes uncontrollably
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Withdrawal from activities you used to enjoy
  • Withdrawal from social activities and friends and family
  • Suicidal thoughts

Treatment for Situational Depression  

Situational depression can resolve on its own. For that reason, many people choose to wait it out while seeking help from friends or family or other self-help measures. 

However, situational depression can be very serious. Suicidal thoughts can sometimes lead to actions because it does not feel like the experience will be temporary. They often feel as though they will need to deal with the depression and anxiety forever. 

Therefore, it is often advisable to seek out professional help when you are coping with situational depression. Here are a few of the treatment options available to you:

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is often a very effective treatment for situational depression, as it helps create a sense of perspective for the depressed person, which makes coping with their symptoms much easier. 

Being under the care of a psychotherapist can also be very helpful since they are skilled at identifying worsening psychological conditions and determining whether something else is going on besides situational depression. 

Therapy may help you to solve problems more effectively and eliminate serious stressors in your life to help you cope better. Support groups can also be very helpful for enabling you to cope with your symptoms and alleviate feelings of isolation.

Medication

Usually, antidepressants are only advisable when depression is ongoing, as antidepressants usually take as long as a month or more before patients see effects. For many patients suffering from situational depression, symptoms will already naturally begin alleviating by the time they begin feeling the effects of antidepressants. 

This can make diagnosis and treatment frustrating and confusing for both the patient and the doctor. However, some patients experience symptoms severe enough that medication is necessary, especially where suicidal thoughts might be involved. 

Mental health professionals will typically prescribe anti-anxiety or antidepressant medication in these cases.

Helping a Loved One Cope with Situational Depression

One of the most challenging things about situational depression is its tendency to affect families during times when they are already undergoing substantial stress. A death in the family, the loss of a job, or another significant stressor in your family’s life often prompts depression. 

At the same time a significant stressor is already affecting the family, one family member in particular may develop situational depression in parallel. Not surprisingly, this creates additional stress for the entire family. 

However, it is absolutely essential that you take your family member’s situational depression seriously and do everything that you can to help them deal with the effects of the disorder. 

Many people who experience situational depression feel a sense of guilt, inadequacy, or an inability to cope with life stress. Therefore, helping them to feel less stress in their daily life can go a long way in helping them deal with their situational depression. 

Don’t hesitate to seek out help for a family member or loved one if you believe that situational depression is affecting their life. 

What Other Kind of Depression Might I Be Experiencing?

If you have suddenly begun experiencing depression whereas it was not a problem before, you may be wondering what has changed and why depression is now playing a role in your life. 

If a traumatic event has recently occurred, it is very reasonable to suspect that situational depression is at play. However, there are other kinds of depression that may also appear with less intense symptoms or during briefer periods, such as what is experienced with situational depression. 

Here are a few other types of depression that may be affecting you or your loved one.

Seasonal Affective Disorder 

This type of depression generally only affects people in cooler climates during the winter months when sunlight is reduced. If you have never experienced seasonal affective disorder before, and it happens to occur within 90 days after a traumatic event, it can be easy to mistake seasonal affective disorder for situational depression. 

However, unlike situational depression, seasonal affective disorder will keep coming back year after year, so it is very important to be able to distinguish the difference between these two disorders and get the proper treatment.

Persistent Depressive Disorder 

This is typically a reduced-symptom type of depression, but it can be much longer-lasting. Because the symptoms are milder, it can be easy for people to mistake persistent depressive disorder for situational depression. This might be especially true since persistent depressive disorder often has brief periods of major depressive episodes, which you may mistake for situational depression if the timing works out appropriately. 

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder 

Many women mistake the severe depression around premenstrual dysphoric disorder for situational depression, especially if they haven’t experienced severe premenstrual dysphoric disorder before, and they have recently experienced a traumatic event. Often, these disorders can be concurrent. 

People who are already struggling with stress and sadness due to a traumatic life event may also be more severely affected by premenstrual symptoms than they had previously.

Get Help For Your Situational Depression

If you’re struggling with the symptoms of situational depression, it is essential that you seek out help. Even lighter forms of help like talk therapy or group therapy can be very helpful. 

Only a mental health practitioner can diagnose and offer effective treatments for your situational depression. While the relatively brief time period of situational depression may tempt you to try to wait it out, it’s best to rule out other possible causes for your depressed mood and get treatment to help you through this hard time. 

One of the quickest, easiest ways to get mental health care is through an online mental health clinic like YANA. Not only can you get matched with a mental health professional to help you find the right treatment, you can get continued, regular virtual check-ins and delivery of prescription medication–all for a significantly more affordable price than traditional means of mental health consulting. 

It may be intimidating to step into self-care, especially when it has to do with your mental health, but YANA can make the process easy, discreet, affordable, and comfortable, so you can rest easy knowing you, and your mental wellness, are in good hands. 

Sources:

https://www.cmbclinicaltrials.com/post/adjustment-disorder-or-situational-depression

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/April-2017/Situational-Symptoms-or-Serious-Depression-What-s

https://www.womenshealth.gov/menstrual-cycle/premenstrual-syndrome/premenstrual-dysphoric-disorder-pmdd

https://www.health.harvard.edu/a_to_z/dysthymia-a-to-z