What is situational depression?

Situational depression or adjustment disorder with depressed mood is a short-term form of depression that occurs as the result of a traumatic event or change in a person’s life.

Triggers can include divorce, loss of a job, the death of a close friend, a serious accident, and other major life changes such as retirement.

Situational depression stems from a person’s struggle to come to terms with the changes that have occurred. Once the person is able to cope with the new situation, recovery is possible.

For instance, following the death of a parent, it may take a while before a person can accept that their loved one is gone. Until this time, they may be unable to move on with their life.

Symptoms can include:

  • Listlessness
  • Feelings of hopelessness and sadness
  • Sleeping difficulties
  • Frequent episodes of crying
  • Unfocused anxiety and worry
  • Loss of concentration
  • Withdrawal from normal activities as well as from family and friends
  • Suicidal thoughts

Most people who experience situational depression begin to have symptoms within about 90 days following the triggering event.

What is clinical depression?

Clinical depression is more severe than situational depression. It is also known as major depression or major depressive disorder. It is severe enough to interfere with daily life.

It is classified as a mood disorder and it typically involves chemical imbalances in the brain.

Clinical depression can have genetic origins or it may develop as a response to painful or stressful experiences or events, such as a major loss. These major life events can trigger negative emotions such as anger, disappointment, or frustration.

Depression can change the way a person thinks and how the body works.

Alcohol and drug abuse are also linked to clinical depression.

Clinical depression diagnosis

To be formally diagnosed with clinical depression, a person must meet the symptom criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association.

To be diagnosed with clinical depression, a person must show five or more symptoms from a specific list of criteria, over a 2-week period for most of the day, nearly every day.

The symptoms should be severe enough that they substantially reduce the person’s ability to perform their regular duties and routines.

At least one of the symptoms experienced must be a depressed mood or a loss of interest or pleasure.

Other signs and symptoms include:

  • Depressed mood or constant irritability
  • Significantly reduced interest or feeling no pleasure in activities
  • Significant weight loss or weight gain
  • A decrease or increase in appetite
  • Insomnia or an increased desire to sleep
  • Restlessness or slowed behavior
  • Tiredness or loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt
  • Trouble making decisions or concentrating
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide or a suicide attempt

Some people with clinical depression experience delusions, hallucinations, and other psychotic disturbances. These do not generally occur in people with situational depression.