What Is Situational Depression?

While many people experience depression seemingly "out of the blue," some experience depression as a result of serious negative life event, such as a divorce or death of a loved one. This is known as situational depression or reactive depression.

situational depression

The death of a loved one might cause you to suffer from situational depression.

© Katarzyna Bialasiewicz | Dreamstime.com

If you haven’t heard the phrase before, your first question may be, “What is situational depression?” Yet in a way, it also defines itself. Situational depression a type of depression tied to a negative event or experience, or that results directly from a specific situation.

The heart-wrenching death of a child, for example, or the loss of a formerly loving spouse to someone else commonly will bring on signs and symptoms of depression, but most experts wouldn’t diagnose it as regular depression. Instead, they would classify it as situational depression, also called reactive depression, it arises from feelings that directly result from a specific situation.

Situational Depression: When to Get Help

For many people, situational depression resolves on its own, as circumstances change or as we adjust to important losses. That does not mean, however, that we don’t require support during these trying times. It is perfectly reasonable to take antidepressant medication or undergo psychotherapy for a few months or even years following a tough blow.

If you find you’re having difficulty recovering from a painful loss, do not hesitate to talk to your doctor. Not everyone “bounces back” the way society expects us to. Just because you can point to a specific cause of your symptoms of depression doesn’t mean you cannot benefit from traditional treatments.

Symptoms and Treatment Options

While you will likely feel miserable the moment you’re hit by one of life’s more painful blows, situational depression doesn’t typically manifest until about three months after a negative life event.

Symptoms usually start to lift about six months after they start. If you find you’re suffering from symptoms lasting more than six months, you may be at risk of slipping into a more long-term form of depression. Take it as a sign to seek medical attention.

As with other types of depression, situational depression is a treatable condition. Whether you require medication, psychotherapy, a combination of both, or another approach all together, you are capable of recovering from life’s toughest blows.

For further reading, see the following University Health News posts:


Originally published in 2016 and updated.

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Alison Palkhivala

Alison Palkhivala is an award-winning writer and journalist specializing in lifestyle, nutrition, health, and medicine. She has authored the Belvoir special report Overcoming Depression and the University Health News book … Read More

View all posts by Alison Palkhivala

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