What Is Situational Depression? 4 Coping Strategies

Phi Atratus
  • Apr 21, 2022
  • 5 min read
devastated and frustrated transportation business owner during lockdown

When major changes come into your life, your mental health switches. You may feel like the ground is falling under your feet and that you have no control over your situation. Transitioning through life events is challenging and can sometimes feel like a big burden on your shoulders.

According to the World Health Organization, 5% of adults suffer from depression, and it is the main cause of disability around the globe. Besides clinical diagnosis, depression can occur in times of high stress, like experiencing a loss or a big change. When it does, it’s called situational depression.

You or someone you know has likely experienced situational depression due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. A recent poll states that 65% of American teens see the present health crisis as a major stressor for society in general.

Situational depression can develop into clinical depression if not handled properly. That’s why taking action from the first signs can help you avoid a long-term mental health struggle. Remember that it’s always a good idea to reach out to a professional in times of crisis. 

This article aims to answer the following questions: 

  • What is situational depression? 
  • What are its symptoms?
  • How can you cope? 
  • How can online therapy help you heal?

What Is Situational Depression?

Depression, as a general term, defines a mood disorder characterized by an abnormally low emotional mood and high negativity. It is a recurrent state that affects the person’s mental health regardless of their outside situation and has deep roots in their emotional history.

There are various types of depression, and each of them must be addressed differently. Pre- and postpartum depression are specific to a certain context, with its particularities: pregnant women or new mothers. Major depression refers to other symptoms, causes, and treatments.

Situational depression is an aggregate of depressive symptoms triggered by a specific stressful event. It is also known as adjustment disorder. Situational depression is not recognized as an independent disorder by professional classifications, like DSM-5 and ICD-10.

It is a widely-used term, though, that can explain some sudden changes in a person’s appetite, energy levels, and overall well-being after a significant event has occurred in their life. 

The COVID-19 pandemic, for example, imposed radical changes in people’s lives. A lot of them lost their jobs or lost loved ones, some have relocated, and some ended important relationships. All of these major events can be triggers for situational depression.

Can you have situational depression after big positive events too? Yes, you can experience it after moments of positive change if they were stressful for you. Life-changing moments like getting married, having a child, or moving abroad can trigger some unusual reactions in you.

Depending on how much a specific event affected your routine and mental comfort, you may recognize yourself in the symptoms of situational depression described below.

Situational Depression Symptoms

It’s normal to feel disoriented, confused, and a bit scared in front of a big shift. Situational depression is more than that. It affects your daily life functionality and is a mental health issue that sometimes needs professional intervention. Here’s how to recognize it:

  • Feeling sad, hopeless, or emotionally numb
  • Lethargy and lack of energy
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Eating disturbances
  • Inexplicable physical symptoms (pains, nausea)
  • Difficulties focusing
  • Losing interest in otherwise pleasurable activities
  • Feeling worthless
  • Suicidal thinking

If you’ve experienced some of these symptoms for a long time or have been extremely affected by them, you should consider treatment. In-person or online counseling can help you go more easily through changes and deal with either clinical or situational depression.

Situational Depression vs. Clinical Depression

Situational depression can be thought of as a clinical depression episode, limited to a specific life situation. It has the same symptoms of depression, but there are some aspects to consider differentiating between them:

  • Duration. Clinical depression is usually diagnosed when the symptoms are continuous over a 2-week period, regardless of external events (even positive). With situational depression, this period can be shorter or longer, depending on your ease with changes in general. However, it persists around the timeframe of the triggering event and can intensify when the triggering event is remembered.
  • Severity. Clinical depression is seriously impairing one’s ability to perform daily life tasks. While it can be valid for situational depression too, the functional impairment is temporary. It can even be better from one day to another, with lows on other days.
  • Treatment options. Clinical depression is usually treated with a mix of both therapy and medication from a psychiatrist. Situational depression is not necessarily treated with medication. In-person or online therapy can work wonders in a relatively short period and help you better adjust to the new situation.

Clinical depression doesn't usually have an identifiable trigger, unlike situational depression. But sometimes, situational depression can have underlying causes that could potentially lead to clinical issues if not handled properly. 

4 Ways to Cope With Situational Depression

Some people can experience depression after an important change takes place in their life. If you suspect yourself to be one of them, here are some self-help options to get you through the day.

1. Move your body

Moving your body in any form, such as jogging, exercising, yoga, or dancing, is a great way to rebalance neurochemicals that are essential for well-being. Research shows that physical activity has similar effects on depression symptoms as antidepressant medication.

Don’t ask yourself for the impossible; given the lack of energy and sense of worthlessness you may experience, this can be quite difficult to do while dealing with situational depression. 

If you feel tired and sad all the time, expect yourself to be able to do only one sun-salutation in yoga or run only one block. What’s important is to maintain regularity of physical activity and not to overdo it.

2. Spend time in nature

Being outside and in contact with nature is proven to be a great way to reduce depressive symptoms. Studies have found that spending time in nature results in more positive emotions, a greater sense of meaning and purpose in life, and overall well-being. 

You can take walks in the park, be out in your garden, or go to the nearest nature reserve. You can choose to just sit quietly in an isolated spot, read, meditate, or just observe nature. Going out regularly is a great enhancer for your happiness receptors.

3. Give yourself space to live the change

If you’ve lost someone you loved, got fired from your job, or broke up with a long-term partner, your first instinct could be to deny or ignore the fact that it happened. 

Acknowledging it did actually happen and stating your feelings about it is a good, healthy way to come closer to your process. Research suggests that accepting that you’re having difficult emotions and letting them out is actually decreasing depressive symptoms in the long run.

You can exercise self-acceptance by giving yourself permission to feel what you feel and express it harmlessly – by shouting out loud, crying, cutting unused clothes, throwing pillows, or writing a journal. 

4. Talk to a close friend or relative

Even if you don’t necessarily want to talk about your depression symptoms, it’s good to maintain social contact as much as you can. 

If you’ve come through major changes in your life, chances are you’ll find out about someone’s experience with similar events. Or, you can just be listened to and get some tension out of your system.

Expressing your feelings to someone you trust can be a source of emotional support, which has been found to be the main form of help people with depression need. 

It is important that you reach out for support to someone who’s close to you emotionally and even ask them to help you find a professional. 

When a major change happens in your life, the stability you’ve been used to is shaken. That’s why your mind, body, and emotions can react through situational depression. Use these 4 strategies to better cope with daily symptoms, but note that professional help may be needed. 

Online Therapy for Situational Depression

If you’ve identified some situational depression symptoms in your life, you may be wondering what’s next. Thanks to the internet era, you can start treating your mental health difficulties directly from your home starting today. Online therapy is widely available, and it has a bunch of perks that may interest you:

  • It’s accessible from anywhere.
  • It’s more affordable.
  • It has a flexible schedule.
  • You can easily contact your therapist.
  • You have a greater range of therapists not limited to your area to choose from.

On DoMental, online services are confidential (use encrypted systems) and are easily accessible for a fair weekly fee. You just describe your symptoms, and a licensed therapist is assigned to you based on your specific needs. No more trial and error with your mental health!

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