Situational Depression is a condition that is usually related to a particularly stressful or traumatic situation that results in depressive symptoms. It is sometimes referred to as Stress Response Syndrome.
If you are feeling more stressed than usual, you’re not alone. A 2022 poll by the American Psychological Association found that stress in America has risen to “alarming levels.”
High levels of stress may lead to other mental health issues like depression that can diminish our quality of life.
Understanding situational depression causes, symptoms, and treatment will help people spot problems early and break the cycle of poor mental health.
What is Situational Depression (Stress Response Syndrome)?
Situational depression, or stress response syndrome, is a short-term, stress related condition that usually develops within 90 days of a person struggling with major life changes, or for people who have recently experienced a traumatic event.
While it’s not a clinical diagnosis, situational depression is considered a type of adjustment disorder.
There are several differences between situational depression and a condition like major depressive disorder (MDD).
Situational depression is shorter in duration and is usually caused by stressful life events, whereas major depressive disorder can have a range of causes and last for years.
What Causes Situational Depression?
There are a number of reasons why some people may struggle with situational depression that is triggered by stress or trauma. It’s also important to recognize that major life events often affect each person differently.
While a given stressful event might not have much of an impact on one person, it can severely alter another person’s ability to function.
Some common causes that trigger situational depression can include the following:
- Serious illness, either personally or in a loved one
- Divorce, separation, or ongoing relationship troubles
- Social issues at work, home, or school
- Domestic violence, as well as emotional or physical abuse
- Loss of employment, or starting a new stressful job
- Moving, unstable living situations, homelessness, or living in a dangerous area
- Financial problems
- Serious injury or a traumatic accident
- Death of a loved one
- Natural disasters
Some people, as noted above, may be more likely to experience situational depression as a result of their personal history.
People experiencing multiple stressors at the time same, those with an existing mental health condition, or anyone who suffered with serious childhood trauma can be more susceptible to the condition in high-stress situations.
Situational Depression Symptoms
Whatever stress or trauma causes situational depression symptoms to appear, they often range from feelings of persistent sadness or hopelessness, to impairing a person’s ability to carry out day-to-day responsibilities.
Being able to recognize the early symptoms of this form of depression can help people reach out for help, make lifestyle adjustments, and decrease the duration of difficult or painful symptoms.
Symptoms of situational depression can include some of the following:
- Tearfulness or crying more frequently
- Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or guilt
- Isolating from friends and family
- Feeling lonely
- Loss of enjoyment in people, places, or activities usually enjoyed
- Physically and mentally exhausted
- Insomnia and trouble sleeping
- Consuming alcohol or drugs as a way to cope with negative feelings
- Lack of motivation to address stressful events or other life issues
- Mood swings, from grief to irritability or anger
- Thoughts of suicide
Another sign a person may be experiencing stress response syndrome after a major life change or traumatic event is that absolutely everything simply seems overwhelming and becomes impossible to handle.
However, it’s important to remember that situational depression is temporary and it is a very treatable condition that often goes away on its own over time.
How to Treat Situational Depression
Though the symptoms of situational depression or stress response syndrome don’t last as long as other types of depression or mental health conditions, it does affect a person’s wellbeing.
Getting professional treatment will keep the condition from escalating to a more serious disorder.
Situational Depression Treatment Methods
Treatment for situational depression typically includes a combination of self-care, counseling, and in some cases, medications.
Counseling and Therapy
Individual counseling, or group and family counseling if appropriate, can help lessen the impact of situational depression symptoms. Very often, talking about stress and trauma and how it affects our lives helps to put these problems into perspective.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which helps people replace negative thought patterns with more useful thinking, is especially effective in treating symptoms of depression.
There are other evidence-based therapies similar to CBT that help people with depression and mental health issues overcome negative thinking and live a more positive life.
Medications, such as antidepressants, can help ease the symptoms of depression over time. These are often prescribed for long-term forms of depression, although they can also be useful for some people with situational depression as well.
In more serious cases, anti-anxiety medications may be needed for short-term use.
Treating Complementary Conditions
It’s common for people with mental health issues like depression to use drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with the symptoms.
While this may work temporarily for some people, continued use of substances can lead to addiction, causing a co-occurring disorder of addiction and depression.
When this happens, a dual diagnosis treatment program may be necessary to treat addiction and depression together at the same time.
Self Care is the process of developing and maintaining healthy habits that benefit both the body and mind. These practices can include meditation, massage, regular exercise, and a healthy diet.
Focusing on self care strategies can have a powerful impact on a person’s ability to deal with stressful events that lead to depression.
As mentioned earlier, situational depression is not a clinical diagnosis so it is not usually included as one of the common types of depression.
Even so, it is still a condition with very real symptoms related to stress that can affect an individual’s ability to function in a healthy way.
Seeking treatment and practicing self care strategies can accelerate healing and recovery and return a person to a healthier and happier life more quickly.
Treatment will also reduce the possibility of depressive symptoms escalating to something more serious, like a co-occurring disorder or major depression.