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Situational Depression vs Clinical Depression

Understanding the Difference

lonely girl with clinical depression sitting against the wall

It is estimated that over 15 million Americans suffer from a major depressive disorder every year. With suicide now being the tenth leading cause of death in the United States alone, there is more to be done in understanding how to help individuals who suffer from mental illness. While much has been done to aid in the destigmatizing of mental illness, there are still those individuals who still feel the confusion and shame of dealing with clinical depression.

Unfortunately, we continue to live in a society (both the onlookers and the sufferers) that believe depression is something that a person should just be able to “snap out of”. While there are specific situations that can contribute to a person feeling depressed or sad, clinical depression is entirely different. It is extremely important to know and understand the distinction.

Symptoms of Depression

Situational and clinical depression can closely resemble one another. It is the combination of symptoms and the treatment that will help a mental health professional decide on a preferred course of action. Symptoms of depression are:

  • Feelings of hopelessness (What’s the point of living? Will life ever get better?)
  • Sadness
  • Unfocused anxiety (Difficulty in completing even simple tasks because of anxious thoughts)
  • Unfocused worrying
  • Recurrent bouts of crying
  • Changes in sleep patterns (sleeping too much or suffering from insomnia)
  • Changes in eating habits (Overeating or not able to eat at all)
  • Anger (Getting angry over things that would not normally anger you)
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Irritability
  • Excessive weight loss or weight gain – particularly within a short duration of time
  • Having suicidal thoughts

Related: Embracing Depression

Situational Depression

Situational depression will usually be influenced by a specific event and is typically short-lived (6 months or less). Perhaps a family member or loved one has passed away – maybe you have lost a job. Something difficult or traumatic has happened in your life and you are extremely sad about it. And while many of the symptoms can be similar to clinical depression, it is the treatment and the duration of time that is different. With a depressive event that is triggered by a specific incident, treatment may include:

  • Talking with friends, loved ones, a therapist or support group
  • Regular exercise
  • Eating a well-balanced diet
  • Getting proper sleep

Situational depression usually resolves with time and self-care but, depending on the level of emotional trauma, some individuals are prescribed short-term medications to help with anxiety and sleep. It is extremely important for individuals to seek professional care if any situation causes their depression to get in the way of day-to-day living for an extended period of time. Most people can cope with situational depression without medical intervention, and can eventually resume a normal life.

Clinical Depression

While time, therapy, and self-care can assist in transitioning someone out of a situational depression, clinical depression must be viewed and treated differently. While the cause of clinical depression can be from a trauma or event, persons with this disorder have an altered brain chemistry and lack the ability to stabilize their own mood. These individuals will have a depressed mood most of the day. There is usually a loss of interest in normal activities and relationships. While situational depression will present short-term, the symptoms of depression in the clinical form will be present for 6 months or more.

While therapy, exercise, and proper sleep will help, medication is usually necessary to help these individuals with their unbalanced brain chemistry. Genetics and environment can play a large role in contributing to a major depressive disorder. With situational depression, a person can usually pinpoint the exact cause of their sadness. With clinical depression, a person’s life could seem almost perfect, yet they will still be sad and withdrawn. Women are twice as likely to suffer from clinical depression than men. Individuals suffering also have a higher risk of abusing drugs and alcohol. Treatment for clinical depression may include:

  • Therapy / Counseling (inpatient or outpatient)
  • Medication
  • Proper nutrition and sleep
  • Regular Exercise

It is vitally important for people to understand that people who suffer from clinical depression cannot just “snap out of it”. It is usually not something they will be able to overcome on their own. If an episode of depression lasts for 2 weeks or more, it is extremely important for these people to get professional help.

Related: You’re Only Human

Depression is Serious

If you or someone who you know is exhibiting signs of depression, please take it seriously. Often there is shame or embarrassment with their symptoms – especially if they cannot pinpoint the cause of them. If you know someone who exhibits any depressive signs – reach out to them. Ask them what you can do to help or steer them in the direction of a necessary mental health professional. If you are suffering from depression, you are not alone! It is something that affects so many people and it is crucial to get help if your symptoms are getting in the way of normal day-to-day tasks. Persons who have had a major depressive episode are at a higher risk for having another. Be sure to know your triggers and reach out to someone for help.

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