“Situational depression” may occur following a painful or traumatic situation, such as a bereavement. However, it is not an official medical diagnosis. Current diagnostic criteria do not distinguish depression subtypes based on cause.
Researchers believe a combination of environmental and biological factors play a role in the development of depression. This means a person may be more likely to develop situational depression if they have a family history of mood disorders or other biological risk factors.
This article examines situational depression, including its symptoms and treatments. It also details the differences between clinical and situational depression.
Situational depression is not an official subtype of depression. However, many factors, including challenging life events, may trigger depressive symptoms.
Symptoms of depression include:
- feeling chronically sad
- feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- changes in weight or appetite
- a loss of pleasure and joy in activities a person once enjoyed
- sleep issues such as insomnia or oversleeping
- low energy levels
- concentration or attention difficulties
- changes in movement, such as agitation or moving very slowly
- thoughts of suicide
Shorter-term mood changes directly related to a painful life event may not rise to the level of depression if a person has fewer than five symptoms or they last fewer than
Adjustment disorder refers to a condition in which people experience what a doctor considers an “exaggerated” response to a stressful event. This reaction may be out of step with cultural norms. For example, a person might stop going to work following a breakup.
According to the current criteria, symptoms of adjustment disorder last fewer than 6 months. This is one way doctors distinguish it from depression.
Symptoms of adjustment disorder
- a reaction that healthcare professionals deem disproportionate to the stressor
- symptoms that begin within 3 months of the stressor
- significant impairments in functioning, such as difficulty going to work or having relationships
A doctor may diagnose adjustment disorder if people experience a higher level of difficulty coping with a stressful event than they consider typical.
Researchers also do not fully understand the causes of depression. However, certain risk factors
- family history
- stressful life events
- a lack of social support
- financial issues
- neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease
Biology and environment may interact such that people at a higher genetic or biological risk of depression may be more likely to experience it when environmental risk factors occur, such as a stressful event.
Situational depression is not a medical diagnosis. However, a healthcare professional may tell a person that stressors likely triggered their depression.
Although no medication is specifically approved to treat situational depression or adjustment disorder, doctors
People experiencing situational depression also need compassionate support. They may require accommodations at work or school.
According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, 70% of people with major depressive disorder respond to treatment, but only 30% reach full recovery or remission. A person may need to try several treatments before seeing results.
- psychotherapy, especially cognitive behavioral or interpersonal therapy
- electroconvulsive therapy
- social support and education about depression
Combining medication and psychotherapy often improves outcomes.
Situational depression is not a medical diagnosis. Instead, it describes the apparent cause of depression.
Clinical depression is the medical diagnosis of depression. Several subtypes exist, but the form people generally refer to when they use the term “clinical depression” is major depressive disorder.
Adjustment disorder with a depressed mood can mean a person feels sadder than doctors may expect after a stressful or momentous event. Some important differences between clinical depression adjustment disorder
- People experiencing adjustment disorder do not have enough depressive symptoms to receive a diagnosis of clinical depression. For example, they may have a depressed mood but not have difficulty enjoying things they once did.
- Adjustment disorder lasts fewer than 6 months, while clinical depression can last indefinitely.
- A person with adjustment disorder must have experienced an upsetting or stressful event in the 3 months prior to symptoms appearing. While a stressful event can also trigger clinical depression, it is not a necessary prerequisite for the diagnosis.
Diagnostic guidelines for adjustment disorder advise not diagnosing it if another condition better explains symptoms.
If a person meets the diagnostic criteria for depression – which, in the DSM-5-TR, requires the presence of
An adjustment disorder
Situational anxiety is not a medical diagnosis. However, as with depression, a stressful life event may trigger anxiety.
People can become suicidal in response to stressful life events, as a result of depression, and for many other reasons.
Treatment of depression may help lower the risk of suicide.
If a person talks about intentions of suicide, it is important to take this seriously. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention recommends speaking with them privately and listening to what they say without debating the value of life, minimizing their feelings, or giving advice.
It also advises people to avoid judgment, stay with a person, if possible, and limit their access to potential methods of suicide. In a medical emergency, such as following an attempt, call 911.
People can also find more advice below.
If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:
- Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
- Listen to the person without judgment.
- Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
- Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
- Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.
A person should contact a doctor for advice if:
- They have thoughts of suicide or harming themselves.
- They feel depressed or unable to be happy.
- They are experiencing difficulty coping with a traumatic or stressful life event.
- Anxiety, depression, or other mental health symptoms affect their relationships or quality of life.
Situational depression is not a medical diagnosis. However, various stressful situations can trigger depression. If a person experiences fewer depressive symptoms than with clinical depression and for a shorter duration, they may receive a diagnosis of adjustment disorder with depressed mood.
Both depression and adjustment disorder are treatable, and therapy and other forms of treatment may help after a stressful or traumatic event, even if a person does not have a specific diagnosis. Seeing help or advice early may help people regain a sense of purpose, control, and joy after a challenging time or occurrence.