What Is Situational Depression?

Understanding the Difference Between Situational and Major Depression

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Situational depression, also known as adjustment disorder with depressed mood, occurs when a person develops certain emotional symptoms that are more exaggerated than normal in response to a stressful life situation within three months of the situation occurring.

The Difference Between Situational Depression and Major Depression

If you have situational depression, you will experience many of the same symptoms as someone with major depressive disorder, such as a depressed mood, feeling hopeless, and crying.

The difference lies in the fact that your depressive symptoms are clearly in response to an identifiable stressor, do not meet the full criteria for a major depressive episode, and will be resolved when either the stressor no longer exists or you are able to adapt to the situation.

What Are Stressors?

Stressors can be many things. They might be a single event like a natural disaster or divorce, or an ongoing problem such as a chronic illness or marital strife They can even be something that might be perceived as being a positive event like marriage, a new baby, or starting a different job. However, if the stress associated with an event exceeds a person's ability to cope, it can lead to a temporary state of depression.

Situational Depression Needs Intervention, Too

Even though situational depression is related to your circumstances, this does not mean that you should just blow it off or wait for things to get better.

No matter what the cause, depression can increase your risk for suicide and substance abuse. It can also complicate the treatment of other medical conditions by making you less inclined to take care of yourself and follow your treatment plan. In addition, there is the risk that it may progress into becoming major depressive disorder.

If your depressed mood is causing you significant distress or interfering with your daily functioning, it is a very good idea to visit with a mental health professional for assistance.

Treatment for Situational Depression

Psychotherapy is the preferred treatment for situational depression. Often, it will take the form of seeking solutions for your problems or guiding you in learning new coping skills.Therapy might also be aimed at helping you to better understand various issues in your life that are contributing to your distress. Family or couple's therapy may be most appropriate in situations where problems in interpersonal relationships are contributing to your feelings of stress.

Support groups can also be quite helpful to those suffering from situational depression.  For example, a person who is struggling to cope with a chronic illness might find a degree of understanding and support from other people who are dealing with the same illness that he can't find elsewhere.

Medications may not be the first line of treatment for situational depression since you can often be better served by dealing with the underlying causes for the stress in his life.

Prevalence of Adjustment Disorder With Depressed Mood

Situational depression can happen to anyone at any time in their lives. Males and females are affected equally. It usually does not last for more than six months. 


"Adjustment Disorder."  Psychology Today.  Sussex Publishers, LLC.  Reviewed:  May 7, 2007.  Accessed:  May 20, 2014.

"Adjustment Disorder Symptoms."  Psych Central.  Reviewed: May 26, 2013 by John M. Grohol Psy. D.  Accessed:  May 20, 2014.

"Dr. Swartz Talks About Situational Depression."  Johns Hopkins Health Alert.  Remedy Health Media, LLC.  Reviewed:  February 11, 2009.  Accessed:  May 20, 2014.

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