Life has a way of throwing unexpected curveballs at us that cause stress, anxiety, and sometimes something more serious like situational depression.
Really, the only prediction we can make about life is that it is unpredictable. There’s no escaping the surprise twists and turns that come at us from the earliest of ages.
As adults, we tend to understand this concept, but it doesn’t necessarily mean this unexpected stress just rolls right off our backs. In fact, there are all kinds of events in life, both positive and negative, that can lead to situational depression.
What is Situational Depression?
Situational depression is considered an adjustment disorder, which is a type of short-term depression associated with stressful life events.
Even though this form of stress is temporary, it can still cause substantial feelings of fear and worry that affect our day-to-day behavior and have a negative impact on our mental health.
This condition is a lot more common and serious than most people might realize.
An excellent example of widespread situational depression is the 2020 Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
In late June 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 40 percent of U.S. adults experienced increased symptoms of poor mental health and substance abuse related to the stress of the pandemic.
Of this group, 11 percent of people admitted seriously considering suicide.
To be clear, though, it doesn’t take something as big as a global pandemic to cause situational depression. Any stressful life event, whether we consider it big or small can take a steep toll on our mental health if we don’t address it.
What Causes Situational Depression?
There are, of course, tragic events like the sudden loss of a loved one that can lead to situational depression.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, a much sought after promotion or a new job with intimidating responsibilities can also cause significant stress, even though it is something we ultimately wanted.
Whatever the situation, it is the added pressure and stress that can lead to depression.
Some common life events that carry a lot of stress can include:
- Suffering from a serious medical condition or taking care of a loved one in this position
- Traumatic life experiences, such as physical or sexual assault or a devastating natural disaster
- Environmental situations, like living in an unsafe community or fleeing a war-torn region
- Divorce, separation or other relationship issues
- Social issues, like a bully at school or work
- Loss of a job or a cut in salary
Truly, the list could go on and on. It’s important to remember that while one person might not consider a particular situation stressful, another might have an entirely different, negative reaction it.
In these kinds of situations, consider that a person might have many other stressful events going on in their life behind the scenes. Perhaps they are already struggling with poor mental health and the added pressure tips them into this type of depression.
Understanding the symptoms of situational depression is useful for personally identifying the condition, but also for supporting others that might be dealing with untold stressors.
What Are the Symptoms of Situational Depression?
The fact that situational depression is short-term doesn’t make the symptoms of this condition any less pleasant. Depression can affect every aspect of life and may make even getting out of bed difficult and painful.
The symptoms of situational depression can include some of the following:
- Hopelessness, sadness and feeling constantly overwhelmed
- Prolonged feelings of anxiety and worry
- Difficulty sleeping
- Eating issues
- Increase in alcohol or substance use
- A loss of interest in people or hobbies once enjoyed
- Social isolation
- An inability to concentrate
- Ignoring normal work or home-related responsibilities
- Suicidal thoughts and ideations
There is absolutely no shame in battling these symptoms. What’s important is to seek help when they occur.
Even if a situation is temporary, getting proper treatment may actually speed the healing process and give a person the necessary tools to cope with the impact of a troubling life event.
How is Situational Depression Treated?
Seeking treatment for situational depression can help us understand and approach whatever particular problem is creating so much unhealthy stress.
One-on-one counseling or psychotherapy is an excellent tool for getting through this condition.
A therapist might suggest antidepressant medications, such as selective serotonin uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), in addition to counseling.
Behavioral approaches, like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), are useful tools for combatting unavoidable stressors.
Neurofeedback therapy has also shown to be helpful for people with many forms of depression, and this Neurofeedback Cheat Sheet gives a summary of how it works.
Lastly, living as healthy a life as possible goes a long way toward reducing the symptoms of situational depression.
These healthy life habits can include the following:
- Severely limiting or totally avoiding drugs and alcohol
- Regular exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, 4 or 5 days a week
- Maintaining a healthy diet of lean proteins, fish, fresh vegetables and whole grains
- Ensuring healthy sleep hygiene by getting 7 to 9 hours of restful sleep a night
- Fostering or maintaining supportive relationships with other likeminded people
- Practicing meditation, mindfulness, or yoga to calm the mind and reduce stress
It is virtually impossible to avoid all forms of stress. However, acknowledging that we might be going through a difficult patch and taking the steps needed to get better will help move us through a trying time in a much more productive way.
Avoiding Other Types of Depression
While situational depression is often short-lived, it can turn into a more severe form of depression if not addressed in the early stages.
It is never recommended to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol, as this is a common driver of major depressive disorders that require other forms of treatment.
Using alcohol or other substances as a quick fix might briefly make a person feel better. But in the long run, it can lead to addiction or a co-occurring disorder of addiction and depression combined, requiring dual diagnosis treatment for recovery.
Trying to conquer depression and addiction is much more difficult than only working on one of the issues by itself.
This is why it’s essential to seek help for situational depression at the first signs that it is becoming too much to handle alone.