A person sits looking out of an old window towards the sea. Photo by Noah Silliman.
Everyday Lifestyle

Working Through Situational Depression

All of us at various points within our lifetime will experience events, challenges, changes and difficulties that negatively impact our mental health. Struggling and needing help from time to time makes us human, and we are not alone.

What can we do when our ability to deal with these struggles is crumbling? What help is available to us when our attempts at healing and making sense of what has happened develops into situational depression? 

graphic link to an everyday lifestyle post on transatlantic notes called working through situational depression

WHAT IS SITUATIONAL DEPRESSION?

Sometimes called reactive depression or adjustment disorder with depressed mood, situational depression is a temporary, stress-related form of depression that’s triggered by an identifiable traumatic event or series of events. It has many similar symptoms to clinical depression but differs in several ways, one being that situational depression usually resolves itself once the stress-related event no longer exists and/or the emotional response to it has adapted or eased. It can develop after we lose or change jobs, end a relationship, experience health issues, bereavement, move house, retire, etc.

Any life adjustment can set off a period of anxiety and/or depression. There are no rules about what we should and should not be able to emotionally and mentally process. Sometimes certain things, for whatever reason, get a little too heavy — and it’s okay to feel this way and need support. When it comes to situational depression, being able to recognize what has caused our trauma means we can find ways to identify effective help.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?

Although I’ve not been formally diagnosed with situational depression, my husband’s late-stage cancer diagnosis in 2019 and his continued fight (including his latest round of surgeries back in March this year) recently had me experiencing some intense difficulties. Symptoms of situational depression can be different from person-to-person but may include:

• disrupted/lack of sleep
• lack of interest and/or enjoyment in normal activities
• difficulty focusing and inability to carry out daily activities
• avoiding social interactions
• feelings of overwhelm, hopelessness and sadness
• persistent anxiety and worrying
• frequent crying
• not taking care of yourself or everyday tasks like house chores, etc
• suicide ideation or suicide attempts

I experienced all of these except for attempted suicide, but I did begin to think that life, and everybody in it, would be better off if I wasn’t alive. These recurring thoughts, most likely born from the fear of losing my husband, finally made me understand that I wasn’t coping as well as I thought. After sitting with this for a while, I realised that I had stopped doing many things that brought me joy. I hadn’t left the house (unless for medical appointments and hospital stays), I stopped listening to music, I couldn’t focus on reading and my motivation to write anything disappeared. All the colour and delight had drained from my existence as I cocooned myself in the hard grit that was needed to help the person I love the most.

In a depressed mood, a man sits on a brown leather sofa with his hand on his forehead.
photo by Nik Shuliahin

But you don’t need to be facing something like cancer to be plunged into the complexities of situational depression. There are no hardship Olympics that we need to qualify for and then compete in. There is no one trauma-inducing event that beats all others. Under these circumstances, comparison isn’t just the thief of joy, it’s the suppressor of support at a time when we probably need it the most. Unemployment, exams, bullying, pandemics, financial difficulties, divorce, illness, death or any other life change can produce situational depression. All of them are equally valid.

WHAT HELP CAN YOU GET?

Treatment for situational depression can range from lifestyle changes, counselling that builds resiliency/coping mechanisms, therapy (including cognitive behavioural therapy) or medication. Talking with a trusted family member or friend may be a positive first step (this is what helped me) but if you’re increasingly unable to take care of yourself and/or undertake everyday responsibilities/activities, you should seek professional help from your doctor. No matter which treatment ends up being suitable for you, it’s important to let those around you know that you need support.

*Asking for help isn’t as simple as it sounds because many people are reluctant to do so. If you know someone has recently gone through a life-changing event/adjustment, and you’re emotionally available to assist, ask if they need support instead of waiting for them to come to you. 

Here in the United States, millions of people do not have equal access to healthcare. Many are underinsured, face financial burden because of incomplete coverage or have no insurance at all. If you don’t have easy or affordable access to professional mental health support, there are organizations that can help. Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) provide community-based health services that often work on a sliding fee scale (find your local FQHC here). Open Path Psychotherapy Collective is a non-profit that provides a nationwide network of mental health professionals that work with middle- and lower-income individuals and families. For various helplines and 24/7 mental health support, visit the website of the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) and look through their extensive resources. NAMI also categorises specific assistance for Black, Indigenous, Asian, Pacific Islander, Hispanic/Latinx, LGBTQ+ and disabled Americans (you can find this information here).

No matter how, when or why situational depression develops, everyone deserves love, kindness, understanding and support. I hope you find it. And for those who have kindly asked, my husband is continuing to do well and I’m back to reading, writing and listening to music — it’s good to reclaim what nourishes my mental and physical health.

FURTHER INFO/SUPPORT:

CheckPoint – global (by country) resources for mental health support

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40 thoughts on “Working Through Situational Depression”

  1. Thank you so much for being open with your story and your experience. Conversations like these about mental health are so important to have. I find that times of depression can sneak up on me slowly as one by one those things that bring joy are set aside. Awareness of the symptoms and open conversations like these can really help us stay in tune a little more.

    I’m glad you and your husband are doing well 🙂

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    1. I will admit I was a bit nervous about sharing just how bad things got, but I realised that so many other people will be experiencing something similar. I want these conversations to become the norm and I am so glad I can be a part of it. Thank you so much for sharing your experience too in this comment, none of us are alone.

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    2. Because of some events, I also feel like this (everything except suicidal thoughts). At first I thought I was depressed but now that you have described all this nicely it is possible that I feel this way because of everything that is happening at the moment. Thank you for this post, it’s very helpful.💛💛💛💛💛

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      1. It can definitely be difficult to distinguish sometimes if we’re just depressed or are having a reaction/response to situational factors. It is probably so common many people don’t realise that it could be what’s actually contributing to their issues. I hope you can take some time amongst all these events that are having a negative impact on you to make sure you look after yourself. Sending love!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for sharing. I went through some hard times after my divorce and it’s always helpful to know I’m not alone. I wanted to add that another good resource is social media support groups. It can be a great way to find others who share your situation.

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    1. That’s a great tip as I think any connections we can make with other people who have experienced something similar makes you feel like you can get through it all. Feeling alone in this way can be devastating so it is healing to know we are supported and not isolated. Thanks so much for commenting!

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  3. I used to have situational anxiety and psychosis when I didn’t get enough sleep. In generally depressed all the time so I often don’t notice I’m more depressed than usual until I just want to stay in bed. Oh, having to make complaints to compaines that clearly don’t want to help, that’s definitely my situational depression trigger. That can make me want to beat myself with a brick as they drag it out for months

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    1. I can imagine how frustrating and triggering it is having to deal with companies like that who clearly have no interest in being of any help. Anything like that just seems to be set up to be deliberately cruel. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences here, I really appreciate it.

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  4. I can relate to this so much at the moment, we have a lot going on that we can’t control and boy is it tough. It’s nice to know others know how I’m feeling and that it’s normal xx

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    1. It’s completely normal and you are definitely not alone. Situational depression can be very tricky to deal with as it can be any number of things that trigger it, even things you’ve previously dealth with well. Having a lot going on can be overwhelming so make sure you take some time to take care of your wellbeing. Sending you strength!

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  5. Hi Molly,

    Thank you for being so frank and honest with us about your experience – I know that it can be difficult to talk openly about topics like this. By doing so you are providing the resources that may potentially help others.

    How are you both doing now?

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    1. I was definitely nervous and unsure about sharing this but I know so many people struggle with this type of depression when life throws us a curve ball. I hope whoever reads this feels seen and supported.

      We are both doing much better. He was very difficult seeing someone in so much pain and distress for such an extended period of time, but finally the sun is beginning to shine again — thank you so much for asking!

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  6. Thank you for sharing! I definitely suffer from situational depression – though I didn’t know that was the name for it. I thought it was just depression but this makes so much sense for some occasions!
    Glad to hear your husband – and yourself – are doing well.

    Saph x

    http://www.simplysaph.co.uk

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    1. You’re most welcome — I am so glad that this post was able to help give an outline to what you and so many of us experience. I think a lot of us don’t realise there is a term for it and that we can get love, help and support through it. Thank you so much for commenting!

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  7. Very good summary and tips for this. Very important work that you are doing, making this info so accessible. I have had similar feelings in certain circumstances. Glad you are putting this out there to the world! 🙂

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  8. This is post is so relevant to my last post. I think that in a way this is what I was dealing with these last weeks. I recognized most of the symptoms. Thank you for sharing it with us. I am so sorry reading about what your husband and you are going through. I hope everything will turn out the best possible way.

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    1. I’ve heard from a number of people who have realised that they have been through situational depression or are going through it. It’s very common but not really spoken about so much, and there is comfort and support knowing we are not alone. Thank you so much for taking the time to read/comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I know about medication but not therapy. I hope these therapies help because mostly it doesnt really seem so. Also sorry to hear about your husband. I hope he feels well, and strength to you Molly. Also good you got back to doing what you enjoy doing and he’s fine. Wish you the best. Xx
    Isa A. Blogger
    https://bit.ly/39f9FN0

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    1. From what I’ve heard, finding the right therapist and therapy structure can be really challenging — sadly, as you pointed out, this will definitely have an impact on its effectiveness — but it’s worth exploring as an option if situational depression becomes unmanageable. Thank you so much for the good wishes and for stopping by to read & comment!

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  10. I love this informative post.. I think many of us have gone through this type of depression. Thank God for having strength, faith and hope that I surpassed this situation. Very important topic to keep talking about it.

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  11. I used to have situational depression when I was working in the fashion industry. It made me have no mood at doing anything. All I did was eat and sleep. And yeah, I usually gain a lot of weight everytime I’m having situational depression.

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  12. Thanks for sharing! I definitely feel like this is something that isn’t really spoken about much. I’ve been here before. I lost my voice for 9 months and doctors couldn’t figure out why (the end reason was a totally dumb one) but not being able to communicate made me withdraw from almost all social situations, I felt like I was losing my identity in a lot of ways, many UI assignments had to be restructured so I could complete them in my own way which made me feel like a massive burden. I knew as soon as it came back I’d feel better but that helpless feeling in between was awful.

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    1. That sounds like a really difficult experience to have gone through. Navigating your day-to-day like that would have no doubtedly taken its toll. Feeling helpless truly is an awful feeling and so many of us go through this process when we come up against situations or events that negatively impact us. I agree with you that this type of depression isn’t spoken about enough as there’s a perception of “that’s life, just get over/on with it”. We all struggle and I am happy to hear that things can (and did) get better for you — thank you so much for sharing your experiences.

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  13. So good you wrote about this! I think most people experience this and it’s always good to know that it’s okay and that others struggle too as we sometimes blame ourselves for being weak or too emotional or whatever during hard times.

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    1. Exactly! I think most people experience this too and think they are being burdonsome or worrying/reacting over something they should just get over. I doesn’t work like that, we are all human and we all experience struggles at various points in our lives. Thank you so much for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

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