My Depression May Be 'Situational' But That Doesn't Make It Any Less Severe

by Kimberly Zapata
Originally Published: 
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To say my life has been traumatic as of late would be an understatement. In March, I told my husband I was gay. In June, my mother died — in a sudden and dramatic way — and since that time, I’ve lost three (more) family members. Two uncles to cancer and one aunt to a cause still unknown. I’d be lying if I said I’m well. I’m not. It’s been a lot. I’ve been struggling to keep my head clear and myself afloat, to keep my marriage (more or less) together, and to cope. And being functional is my baseline. I don’t want to be good or great, just okay. Why? Because I’m currently dealing with situational depression, and the situation is depleting me. Depression is kicking my ass.

“[Situational depression is] a short-term form of depression that occurs as the result of a traumatic event or change in a person’s life,” an article on Medical News Today explains. This type of depression can be triggered by divorce, a loss of job, and/or the death of a beloved family member or friend. Other life changes can also cause this “adjustment disorder.”

“Situational depression is a depressive experience that is triggered by a traumatic event or a change in a person’s life, such as job loss, the death of a loved one or an unstable work environment,” Greg Kushnick, a licensed psychologist in New York, tells HuffPost. “[While the term ‘situational depression’] captures something valuable for many people, in that it seems to provide an explanation for the sadness they are experiencing, that can also be a risk, though, since people often minimize the severity of their depression when they think of it as just a reaction to a situation.”

In short, situational depression can be intense.

It can be heavy, tough, difficult to handle and, yes, severe.

Of course, you may be wondering how situational depression differs from clinical depression — and it’s a reasonable question, especially since, causes aside, the symptoms are very similar. Situational depression can cause listlessness and helplessness. It can bring out, or exacerbate, feelings of hopelessness, and appetite changes are common. It’s been months since I’ve eaten a full meal; my plate is regularly full of half-consumed goods. I also sleep constantly. Exhaustion is my middle name. And the suicidal thoughts are persistent. I’ve thought about harming myself more times than I can count. However, with situational depression, there can be ups and downs. With situational depression, there are moments of joy, breaks of sun and life. Most individuals living with situational depression are also functional — i.e., they attend after-school functions and go to work.

“For a formal diagnosis of clinical depression, a person must meet the criteria outlined in the DSM,” Medical News Today explains. “A person must show five or more symptoms from a specific list of criteria, over a 2-week period, for most of nearly every day [or more].”

Individuals with clinical depression, like myself, can also have flare-ups or depressive episodes caused by specific situations.

“People with clinical depression may experience an overwhelming situation that worsens their depressive symptoms,” Timothy J. Legg, PhD, PsyD, CRNP, tells Healthline. This means individuals living with clinical depression may also experience situational depression, like me. I am currently experiencing a depressive episode triggered by external events. Unfortunately, life is (still) heavy. The pain is great, and I’m struggling to function at the most basic level. Showering, for example, hurts. It feels like a chore.

The good news is that, unlike a clinical episode, situational depression is temporary. “The symptoms [of situational depression] often subside as the situation comes under control,” Legg adds. It can also be treated with therapy and lifestyle changes.

“In most cases, situational depression is only short-term,” Medical News Today explains. “Mild cases of situational depression often resolve without active treatment. However, some strategies [to] help a person reduce the effects of situational depression… include getting regular exercise, eating a well-balanced diet, keeping to regular sleeping habits, talking to loved ones, joining a formal support group and/or taking up a hobby or leisure activity.”

Therapy is another option.

“People with severe situational depression might receive a prescription for medications,” Medical News Today adds, “including antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs.”

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line.

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