The events in our lives trigger our emotions. While we know that life will occasionally throw painful experiences in our direction, we still feel unprepared for the emotional upheaval. Often, our feelings overwhelm us and tax our ability to cope with the changes in our lives.
Our traumatic life events often trigger feelings of sadness, loneliness, and grief. This is normal. It’s part of the human experience. Typically, these feelings subside when the stressful situation improves, or we learn to adapt to the impact and the changes they create.
When adaptation is difficult, when trauma triggers symptoms of situational depression, professional intervention is beneficial and often required. Situational depression can magnify the intensity of the emotional impact of our life experiences, and progress to other forms of depression.
Understanding Situational Depression
Situational depression is typically defined as a short-term depressive disorder that occurs in the aftermath of a traumatic life change. Symptoms typically develop within 90 days of a traumatic life experience. Some of the more common triggers of situational depression include, but are not limited to:
- The death of a friend or a family member
- The processes or finalization of a divorce
- Financial difficulties or job loss
- A life or death experience like a natural disaster, assault or combat
- Problems at work, home, or school
- Experiencing a major illness or accident
The Symptoms of Situational Depression
Situational depression can strike when your personal experiences overwhelm your coping mechanisms. Developing the symptoms of situational depression suggest that you have not yet adapted to the changes in your life. Some of the typical symptoms of situational depression include:
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Physical symptoms such as stomachache, headaches or heart palpitations
- Changes in sleeping or eating patterns
- Sadness or bouts of crying
- Worry, anxiety or feeling overwhelmed
- Difficulty concentrating
- Loss of enjoyment of once pleasurable activities
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- The possibility of suicidal thoughts
A person living with situational depression typically feels more stress in their life than did before the event occurred. This treatable condition is often diagnosed when symptoms are determined not to be part of the normal grieving process, and when other forms of depression have been ruled out.
Understanding the Differences Between Situational and Clinical Depression
Although many of the symptoms of clinical depression and situational depression overlap, there are distinct differences between the two mental health disorders. Those with clinical depression have at least five of the symptoms of depression that last two weeks or more. Their symptoms are serious enough to interfere with or degrade the ability to function in their daily lives. Those with clinical depression often have noted chemical imbalances and may also live with delusions, hallucinations and other types of psychotic disturbances.
Situational depressive disorder is often considered an adjustment disorder, rather than true depression. That’s because a person living with situational depression is more likely to continue with their ability to function. While in comparison to clinical depression, situational depression may not sound like a serious concern, situational depression should not be ignored. For mild cases of situational depression, the following suggestions may help alleviate your symptoms:
- Try to Exercise, to boost mood-elevating endorphins, even 20 minutes of moderate activity is beneficial
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule
- Engage in enjoyable activities with family or friends
- Join a formal support group
- Set realistic goals and expect gradual rather than immediate improvement
- Try to spend time and confide in a trusted friend or family member
- Let others help you by not isolating yourself
Treating Situational Depressive Disorder
Left untreated, situational depression can progress to a serious and often more difficult to treat, major depressive disorder. Depending on the severity of the condition, situational depression typically responds to counseling or therapy, the use of antidepressant medication, or a combination of medication and counseling. If you recognize the signs and symptoms of situational depression, it important to consider the services of a qualified professional, especially if you recognize the following symptoms or behaviors:
- Missing time at work, school, or avoiding social activities
- Physical symptoms such as heart palpitations stomach aches, or headaches
- Significant changes in your eating or sleeping patterns
- You are abusing drugs or alcohol to cope with your symptoms
- Have thoughts of self-harm or suicide
The goal of the treatment plan for situational depression is to help you cope with your stressors and get back to feeling like yourself.
A qualified counselor or therapist can help you:
- Have a better understanding of your emotional and mental health
- Help you learn effective methods of dealing with your symptoms
- Develop new or improved coping skills
- End any self-destructive patterns or behaviors
- Overcome the fears, insecurities or behaviors that influence your symptoms
Differentiating Between Grief and Depression
Many people, just like you, delay getting appropriate treatment for their situational depression because they assume their symptoms are part of a natural grieving process. To help you differentiate between sorrow and situational depression, you may want to consider this, any emotion or behavior that interferes with your job, your relationships, and your enjoyment of once pleasurable activities should be evaluated with the help of a counseling for depression.
Depression can change the way you think and how your body responds to stress. You do not have to battle the symptoms of situational depression on your own. Contact us and a therapist or counselor will help you learn practical, effective techniques to manage your symptoms and reduce the risk of your situational depression progressing.