Differences between situational depression and clinical depression

Differences between situational depression and clinical depression

Last update: June 27, 2023

Situational depression and clinical depression look alike, but they’re not the same. While both exhibit high emotional distress, feelings of hopelessness, and sleep disturbances, clinical depression is more severely manifested. In fact, it configures what we know as major depressive disorder. Indeed, the psychosocial exhaustion experienced by the patient with clinical depression is immense.

However, all patients diagnosed with major depression will have previously suffered from a situational depressive state. And, if they don’t have adequate coping mechanisms to deal with stressful life events, this results in much more severe states.

Any traumatic experience can trigger situational depression.

Differences between situational depression and clinical depression

The main difference between situational depression and clinical depression is that the former develops in direct response to an adverse event. Losing a loved one is the most common example. It’s important to keep in mind that all of us can, at some point, find ourselves dealing with this kind of unexpected emotional pain.

Life isn’t easy. Difficult situations and twists of fate can suddenly place us in states of great emotional vulnerability. This is when the substrates for milder depression can form. If they are not addressed, they outline a serious clinical picture. Therefore, it is important to know the differences between situational depression and clinical depression. Are the following:

1. Triggers: Situational depression has clear causes

When we look back, most of us will be aware that we have been through some really tough times. Some of us will have dealt with them adequately. However, others will have found them more difficult. Situational depression appears after a traumatic or highly stressful experience. The result is a state of understandable suffering.

Psychologists refer to this characteristic as adjustment disorder because it appears as a response to a specific, identifiable psychosocial stressor. These are extremely harsh and unexpected experiences that exceed the psychological resources available to the individual.

Research conducted by the University of Melbourne (Australia) has mentioned the following triggers for adjustment disorder:

  • Loss of a job.
  • Interrelational conflicts.
  • The death of a loved one.
  • Financial problems.
  • Witnessing a violent act.
  • Seeing your life threatened by an attack.
  • Experience really stressful, but not traumatic situations.
  • Dealing with an illness (your own or someone extremely close to you).

As far as clinical depression is concerned, it is not easy to clarify a specific origin. Indeed, it is the combination of many accumulated stressful events and suffering that has not been adequately managed. A study published in Neuroscience Bulletin he also argues for the involvement of biological and neurobiological variables.

Clinical depression is often accompanied by suicidal ideation. This does not occur with situational depression.

2. Severity: Clinical depression manifests itself in major depressive disorder

When a person goes three to six months without dealing with situational depression (adjustment disorder), clinical depression may develop. In these cases, emotional, mental and behavioral exhaustion is extremely pronounced. In addition, the sufferer has difficulty carrying out their daily activities.

To better understand the differences between situational depression and clinical depression, let’s see how they manifest themselves.

Situational depression

  • Anxiety.
  • I feel like crying.
  • Sleep disorders.
  • Constant concern.
  • Need for isolation.
  • Changes in eating habits.
  • Problems making decisions.
  • Feeling overwhelmed by circumstances.
  • Struggling emotionally when faced with a specific situation that the sufferer finds overwhelming.
  • A temporary condition that resolves after one to three months.
  • Feelings of sadness and hopelessness combined with nervousness.

Clinical depression or major depression

  • Feel like crying.
  • Lack of energy.
  • Persistent feelings of hopelessness.
  • Irritability and bad mood.
  • Musculoskeletal pain.
  • Alterations in eating, sleeping and digestive patterns.
  • Cognitive problems. For example, lack of attention, memory problems, etc.
  • Apathy and anhedonia (difficulty experiencing positive emotions).
  • A general malaise of unknown origin.
  • Suicidal ideation. A study published in Frontiers in psychiatry confirms this fact, together with the need for early diagnosis of clinical depression.

Situational depression is a normal reaction to an adverse life event. It usually goes away on its own without medication.

3. Treatments for situational depression and clinical depression

One of the main differences between situational depression and clinical depression is that the former can go away on its own without professional intervention. After all, stressful life events are frequent, and it’s normal to develop an adjustment disorder in response to these kinds of situations. We all find it difficult to process unexpected twists of fate.

However, emotionally vulnerable people with less coping skills are at risk of developing major depression. Indeed, this is the main feature that cannot be ignored. If an individual feels unable to cope with an adverse event, he should seek specialized help. Let’s look at the most appropriate treatments for these two different types of depression.

Treatment for situational depression

Situational depression does not always require therapy or drug treatment. Indeed, the patient simply needs to experience pain and accept their emotions.

A study conducted by Hannover Medical School (Germany) states that metacognitive therapy is helpful in patients suffering from adjustment disorder. It is a short approach aimed at working on dysfunctional thoughts. The following strategies may also be helpful:

  • Social connection.
  • Yoga and mindfulness.
  • Practice new hobbies.
  • Adequate rest time.
  • Stress regulation techniques.
  • Emotion regulation methods.
  • Good psychosocial support.
  • Be involved in new projects and personal goals.
  • Understand that pain is temporary and will not last forever.

Treatment for clinical depression

  • Psychosocial support.
  • behavioral activation.
  • Self care techniques.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy.
  • Treatment with psychotropic drugs.
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.

We don’t all deal with adversity the same way. Some people have a neurobiological predisposition to handle stress better. Others are overwhelmed by circumstances like losing a job or breaking up a relationship. There is a fine line between situational and clinical depression.

Risk factors

Now that you know the differences between situational depression and clinical depression, you may be wondering what factors contribute to an individual’s transition from suffering adjustment disorder to major depression.

In fact, there’s a pretty fine line between one sphere and another. As a result, there are subtle variables that should be taken into account, both to prevent the condition and to take action.

People with unfavorable and difficult childhoods are at higher risk of suffering from clinical depression or major depression. This will cause any stressful event to overwhelm them and they will not be able to handle it effectively. In fact, an article published in Borders inside Psychology suggests that difficult experiences in childhood are elements of risk. Some other risk factors are as follows:

  • Not having a good support network.
  • An extremely rigid, inflexible and negative mental approach.
  • Difficulty regulating stress and anxiety.
  • Exhibiting a neurotic personality or emotional instability.
  • He suffers from other psychological disorders. For example, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, etc.

Helps to cope with depression

In conclusion, regardless of whether or not we present these risk components, we must not ignore that psychological therapy is an ideal and effective resource, both in the prevention and treatment of depression.

Finally, it’s worth remembering that asking for help when facing difficult circumstances doesn’t make us weak. On the contrary, it means that we are responsible people who want to take care of our health.

You might be interested…

All sources cited have been thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography for this article has been deemed reliable and of scholarly or scientific accuracy.

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