Written by: Toni Foot
Whenever you experience significant life events you need time to adjust or recover. Sometimes, particularly when these events are traumatic, you may not cope very well for a short time and you may develop situational depression (also often referred to as ‘adjustment disorder’).
What is Situational Depression?
Unlike clinical (or major) depression, situational depression is brought about by external factors such as an accident or bereavement and generally passes once the situation changes or the individual adjusts to their new circumstances. In contrast clinical depression often lasts for an extended period of time and the person may not be able to give any significant reason for their feelings. Although situational depression can develop into clinical depression, most people do feel better after a few months.
Although most cases of situational depression follow traumatic life events, some people also find adjusting to potentially positive life events difficult too. Here are some examples of potentially stressful experiences:
- The death of a loved friend or family member
- Divorce or separation from a partner
- Significant financial issues, such as bankruptcy
- Losing a job or being unable to work for some reason
- Having an accident
- Being diagnosed with a serious illness, or having a loved one in this position
- Being the victim of a crime or attack
- Surviving a disaster such as severe flooding, earthquakes or a hurricane
- Moving home
- Having a baby (also known as postpartum or postnatal depression)
- Losing a family member for a reason other than death (such as emigration or when children leave home).
The symptoms of depression may begin immediately or it may take some time before anything happens. The most common symptoms include: feelings of sadness or tearfulness, sleeping too much or suffering from interrupted sleep and negative thoughts (including thoughts of hopelessness or self-harm for some people). However, there are a range of other symptoms that may be experienced including anxiety, headaches, palpitations, suppressed appetite or overeating, impaired concentration, inability to make decisions, withdrawal or isolation from usual relationships or activities, and fatigue.
Understand why you’re feeling this way
If you have experienced one or more significant life events and are experiencing some of the symptoms noted above, you may be finding adjusting to your new circumstances difficult and therefore be suffering from situational depression. Understanding why you feel the way you do can really help you to cope with the situation more effectively. For some people this will be obvious; especially if they have been the victims of a crime or have been diagnosed with a serious illness. However, for others the reason may not be so clear, particularly if the cause is a life event viewed positively by others (such as marriage or childbirth). Accepting the reason for your feelings can be the first step towards being able to adjust effectively and relieve the stress that you feel.
Many people with situational depression see their feelings as justified and expected in the circumstances and therefore do not seek help or support. Indeed the symptoms generally do pass and no extra support is needed. However, there is no reason why you should suffer alone and, as mentioned above, situational depression can eventually develop into clinical depression if the person does not manage to adjust effectively over an extended period of time.
Coping with situational depression can be made more manageable if you try some of these things:
- Talk to your family and friends about your situation and your feelings
- Take some time to recover
- When you feel able, start doing small things to get yourself ‘going’ again. Some gentle exercise or joining a social group of some kind can help
- See your GP. They may be able to suggest appropriate support groups or refer you to other services such as counseling
- Make sure you take time to relax or do something you enjoy.
- Take any opportunity to smile – smiling really helps kick-start your mood, even if you don’t feel that happy
- Make a note of anything good you do or experience over the course of a day or week. Sometimes you can feel like everything is bad and having a few positive things to think about can remind you of the good things in your life too.