Situational and clinical depression are similar, but not the same. Recognizing the signs of situational and clinical depression is the first step toward getting appropriate help.
Situational depression often goes away in time, and talking about the problem can ease the recovery process. If recovery does not occur, the more severe condition of clinical depression may develop. This is harder to resolve, and the person with clinical depression should seek medical help.
What is situational depression?
Situational depression or adjustment disorder with depressed mood is a short-term form of depression that occurs as the result of a traumatic event or change in a person's life.
A disappointing event or devastating news can lead to short-term symptoms of depression.
Triggers can include divorce, loss of a job, the death of a close friend, a serious accident, and other major life changes such as retirement.
Situational depression stems from a person's struggle to come to terms with the changes that have occurred. Once the person is able to cope with the new situation, recovery is possible.
For instance, following the death of a parent, it may take a while before a person can accept that their loved one is gone. Until this time, they may be unable to move on with their life.
Symptoms can include:
- Feelings of hopelessness and sadness
- Sleeping difficulties
- Frequent episodes of crying
- Unfocused anxiety and worry
- Loss of concentration
- Withdrawal from normal activities as well as from family and friends
- Suicidal thoughts
Most people who experience situational depression begin to have symptoms within about 90 days following the triggering event.
What is clinical depression?
Clinical depression is more severe than situational depression. It is also known as major depression or major depressive disorder. It is severe enough to interfere with daily life.
It is classified as a mood disorder and it typically involves chemical imbalances in the brain.
Clinical depression can have genetic origins or it may develop as a response to painful or stressful experiences or events, such as a major loss. These major life events can trigger negative emotions such as anger, disappointment, or frustration.
Depression can change the way a person thinks and how the body works.
Alcohol and drug abuse are also linked to clinical depression.
Clinical depression diagnosis
To be formally diagnosed with clinical depression, a person must meet the symptom criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association.
To be diagnosed with clinical depression, a person must show five or more symptoms from a specific list of criteria, over a 2-week period for most of the day, nearly every day.
The symptoms should be severe enough that they substantially reduce the person's ability to perform their regular duties and routines.
At least one of the symptoms experienced must be a depressed mood or a loss of interest or pleasure.
Other signs and symptoms include:
- Depressed mood or constant irritability
- Significantly reduced interest or feeling no pleasure in activities
- Significant weight loss or weight gain
- A decrease or increase in appetite
- Insomnia or an increased desire to sleep
- Restlessness or slowed behavior
- Tiredness or loss of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt
- Trouble making decisions or concentrating
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide or a suicide attempt
Some people with clinical depression experience delusions, hallucinations, and other psychotic disturbances. These do not generally occur in people with situational depression.
Treatment for situational depression
Situational depression is a natural response to a traumatic event. It normally ceases to be a problem once the stressful situation or event has passed, if the situation improves, or when the person learns to better deal with the situation.
Exercise can boost mood and bring relief to people with situational depression.
In most cases, situational depression is only short-term.
Mild cases of situational depression often disappear on their own, but there are some strategies a person can adopt to reduce the effects and help them feel better.
A few helpful lifestyle changes include:
- Getting regular exercise
- Eating a well-balanced diet
- Keeping to regular sleeping habits
- Talking to loved ones
- Joining a formal support group
- Taking up a hobby or leisure activity
People who find it difficult to recover from a traumatic experience may need to talk to a trained psychotherapist. This specialist can help them to get back on track.
Family therapy might also be recommended. If needed, a doctor may prescribe medications such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs.
Treatment for clinical depression
Clinical depression can last for a long time, and it may require a more long-term and in-depth treatment plan. Normally, a combination of psychotherapy or psychological counseling and medications are used to treat clinical depression.
A primary care doctor or psychiatrist can prescribe the correct medicine or refer an individual to a mental health professional if necessary.
In severe cases, especially if a person tries to self-harm, they may need to stay in the hospital or attend an outpatient treatment program until symptoms improve.
The goal is to find the right treatment plan and get the person back on the right track. Adopting a healthy lifestyle can also encourage recovery.
Who gets depression?
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 16 million American people had at least one major depressive episode in 2015. Depression can occur regardless of race, gender, or economic background, but women are more than 70 percent more likely than men to experience it.
With a healthy lifestyle and the right treatment plan, both forms of depression are manageable.
Support groups and help or depression hotlines, such as the Samaritans, can offer a listening ear and give useful advice and information.