What’s The Deal With Situational Depression?
Many people suffer from depression through the year for various reasons. Depression has a variety of triggers ranging from event specific depression to seasonal depression. Situational depression is a form of “event related” depression. Situational depression is short term in duration and develops after the person experiences a stress related event.
Situational depression, sometimes called reactive depression, is also defined as a form of adjustment disorder. This means that the symptoms associated with the illness make it difficult for the person suffering to adjust to or reintegrate into every day life events after experiencing a traumatic event.
Events that can trigger situational depression
Situation depression or reactive depression is caused by or triggered by the induvial experiencing a traumatic event. Everyone views trauma in different ways and what may be traumatic to one person is not necessarily guaranteed to be considered traumatic to another. Some events that can trigger the symptoms of situation
- Problems at work or school: Situational depression is not age specific. In other words, you don’t have to be an adult to experience symptoms of the disorder. Children who are younger in age can also experience symptoms as well if they exposed to traumatic situations at school. This can include all ranges of events from highly traumatic such as school violence and severe bullying to long running challenges with teachers or peers that the child cannot reconcile. Older adolescents could experience situational depression due to events which are considered traumatic to them such as the loss of a friend or significant other, college or sports team rejection or similar event. Finally, adults could experience situational depression for a wide variety of reasons each of which would be different and specific to what that adult perceives as traumatic.
- Illness: Receiving word from a doctor that one has been diagnosed with a terminal or significant illness could trigger symptoms of situational depression. Additionally, learning that a loved one, spouse or child has been diagnosed with an illness could also trigger situational depression. Experiencing a significant injury such as a traumatic brain injury, deformity or loss of a limb could also be similarly triggering.
- Death of a loved one: The death of a family member, spouse or child (or other loved one) is a traumatic experience. Depending on the closeness of the relationship and how the loss occurred, the death of a loved one can not only trigger symptoms of situational depression but other mental health and post-traumatic stress symptoms as well.
- Moving: For children and teens moving can be a highly emotional and traumatic experience. Often, moving means saying good-bye to friends, teachers and others within the community with whom the child or teen has forged friendships and relationships over the years. This is especially true for teens and older children as they have had time to develop close relationships and are “old enough” to understand the pain often associated with saying goodbye. Moving also means having to forge new friendships in a new place which can be challenging for children and teens who tend to be more introverted. Adults can experience similar trauma associated with moving. This can include having to start or find a new job, new residence and new peer groups. It can also involve having to make a new life far from the place that has been called “home” for a period which sometimes means leaving behind other family members.
- Relationship challenges: This was discussed a little under a previous heading, however, experiences such as divorce, separations or “break-ups” can be perceived as traumatic to those going through the experience. In the case of divorce, if there are children involved that can also be traumatic for both the child, and for the adults in the situation who are trying to protect the child.
- Witnessing or experiencing crime or other violence: Experience such as these, while fortunately not common, are certainly triggers for not only situational depression and its associated symptoms but other mental health struggles as well. Situations such as domestic violence, emotional, physical and sexual abuse could also fall into this category of situational depression triggers.
As strange as it may sound, there are positive events that can be triggers of situational depression. The Oxford Dictionary defines traumatic as something emotionally disturbing or distressing. While it is easier to think of negative events that meet this requirement, there are life events that are inevitably positive which, for a short time, are distressing. Examples of these could include childbirth, your wedding day, your child’s graduation, retirement, etc. These events could, for certain people, trigger symptoms of situational depression.
Symptoms of situational depression
How the symptoms of situational depression present will also vary from person to person. As noted above, situational depression is also sometimes called reactive depression. In short, the symptoms of the illness manifest as a direct result of some type of trigger. Unlike some other forms of depression, the symptoms of situational depression are not long-lasting however, they can have a severe impact on one’s ability to function while they are present.
Some common symptoms of situational depression for people of all ages can include the following. It is important to note that many of these symptoms are also present in other forms of depression and it is important to do your homework and determine if the case is situational depression or a more serious diagnosis such as major depressive disorder. Many people who are experiencing situational depression as a result of a specific event will begin to notice improvements in their symptoms within a few days of the event. If this is not the case and symptoms are persisting for a long period, a more intensive evaluation and treatment plan may be indicated.
Common symptoms of situational depression include:
- Feelings of sadness and hopelessness above and beyond those that would be expected as a direct result of a traumatic event.
- Lack of enjoyment or inability to participate in normal activities
- Regular episodes of crying
- Feelings of constant worry, anxiety or feelings of stress
- Loss of or lack of appetite
- Difficulty sleeping
- Trouble focusing on the here and now
- Feelings of being overwhelmed or “suffocating”
- Intentionally avoiding social situations or social interaction- including those the person regularly participates in.
- Putting off or choosing to ignore important daily tasks such as paying bills, going to school or going to work.
- Suicidal ideations
How a person deals with or copes with stress can be heavily dependent on their life experiences. While situational depression is generally linked to a specific event, a person may be at higher risk of experiencing situational depression if they have had certain life experiences or previous mental health diagnoses. Having a history of or currently experiencing any of the following could potentially increase a person’s risk for situational depression.
- Experienced significant stress during early childhood
- A person with existing mental health struggles
- A family history of depression
There are also a variety of biological factors that can increase someone’s risk for developing depression These include:
- Abnormalities in the structure of the brain or the chemistry of the brain
- Certain hormonal abnormalities
- Genetic changes
Situational depression vs. clinical depression
Situational depression and clinical depression are indeed similar, but they are also very different illnesses. As the name implies, situational depression is generally linked to a specific event of situation. For the person suffering with situational depression, the experience of this event causes the person to feel overwhelmed and their coping abilities are not enough to get them through. For most, the symptoms of situational depression often diminish and begin to subside after a comparatively short time and the situation becomes more manageable.
Clinical depression is quite different. Clinical depression is also commonly called major depressive disorder and is a much more significant mental health condition. Clinical depression and its associated symptoms are often severe enough to interfere with daily function. This type of depression can also alter a person’s thought processes and bodily functions. Some people who have been diagnoses with clinical depression will also experience delusions, hallucinations and other forms of psychotic disturbances. It is thought that clinical depression could be caused by disturbances in the levels of chemicals in the brain known as neurotransmitters as clinical depression does not always have a cause one can pinpoint. If not properly resolved, situational depression could develop into clinical depression.
Treatment for situational depression
The symptoms of situational depression are a natural response to a specific traumatic event. As a result, as the event falls into the past the symptoms usually become more manageable and eventually resolve on their own. For most people, situational depression is a short-term event and most mild cases of situational depression will resolve on their own without any form of treatment or intervention.
There are also a few lifestyle changes one can try in order to help reduce the effects of the symptoms associated with situational depression. If you find your symptoms are making it difficult to take care of your everyday responsibilities or participate in activities which you used to you may want to consider a more intensive treatment.
Some of the following lifestyle changes can help a person to cope with their situational depression symptoms or even provide a distraction from the event that triggered their symptoms. Individuals who have strong coping skills and resilience may be more likely than those who do not to recover on their own with adequate self-care (see below) and a strong social support circle.
- Begin or continue a regular exercise routine
- Make sure you are getting enough sleep
- Rest and relax often-try to reduce stress levels whenever possible
- Eat a balanced diet so the body is functioning at optimal potential
- Strengthen your social support system so you have people to turn to on the days when you feel lower than usual
If non treatment-based solutions are not successful or not working for the long term, there are treatment options available that can help with situational depression symptoms. The good news is, if good news can be applied to depression symptoms, that situational depression is short term. For most people, the symptoms begin and end within a period of six months.
Medications may be used in some cases to help with certain situational depression symptoms. Medications are commonly used in conjunction with other therapeutic techniques such as psychotherapy and generally include antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications. These are used to help alleviate some of the symptoms associated with situational depression but will not “cure” it. This is due to the fact that for the depression to resolve, the event that caused the depression needs to resolve. This often takes time.
However, for those cases where time and peer support are not enough, supportive psychotherapy is generally the preferred treatment for situational depression. This type of treatment can help not only to enhance coping mechanisms but to increase resilience which can help to avoid future situations where situational depression becomes a concern. There are many different types of psychotherapy practiced, but cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is likely to be the therapy of choice for individuals with situational depression. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps people to replace negative thought patterns with thoughts that are more adaptive and thus more likely to enhance coping. Cognitive behavioral therapy also helps people to develop better resilience to stressful events and to improve their coping techniques. Improvement in coping and increased resilience to stress are more likely to help prevent future relapses of depressive symptoms when the person is faced with a new or similar traumatic event.
At Hillcrest we understand how challenging and frustrating the symptoms associated with situational depression can be. At Hillcrest we can help you and your teen to work through their experiences to determine the root cause of their depression. We have a full team of providers who are experienced in all aspects of medical and psychological practice who can provide your teen with a comprehensive, evidence-based treatment program designed around the specific treatment needs of your teen.
At Hillcrest we are so much more than residential care. We offer daily group therapy programs as well as individual private treatment options. If your teen is suffering from symptoms of depression, we would like to speak to you about the many options for treatment.