What parents should know

What Is Situational Depression? What Parents Should Know

As a parent of a teen during these times, you likely feel isolated yourself. It can be difficult to find the best way to connect with them, and show them how to connect to themselves and those around them in a healthy way. Please know you are not alone and our team of teen mental health experts are standing by if you want to confidentially talk to us about what you are seeing at home.

Depression in teenagers is at an all-time high right now. As a result of the pandemic and the stressors it has created, 70 percent of teens are experiencing mental health challenges. Because these symptoms are catalyzed by a specific situation, more parents are asking the question, “What is situational depression?”

Let’s look more closely at this definition and how it’s different from clinical depression, also known as major depressive disorder.
What Is Situational Depression?

Situational depression is very much what it sounds like: depressive feelings and symptoms as a result of a specific situation. Essentially, situational depression occurs when a stressful event or situation overrides a teen’s ability to cope. Hence, they are unable to adapt or adjust to the changes created by the stressor. That’s why situational depression is also known as “adjustment disorder with depressive mood.”

In comparing situational vs. clinical depression, the main difference is that situational depression arises from a clear and identifiable stressor. On the other hand, clinical depression is typically the result of underlying causes such as childhood trauma and abandonment, in addition to genetic and biological tendencies.

When researching the question “What is situational depression?,” parents may be reassured by knowing that situational depression symptoms are usually less severe and ongoing than those of major depressive disorder. Moreover, situational depression usually lasts for no more than six months. In contrast, major depression can last for years.

However, this does not mean that situational depression symptoms can be ignored. Thorough assessment and situational depression treatment are essential for this form of depression in teenagers. If it is not addressed, situational depression can eventually lead to major depression.
Causes of Situational Depression

Right now, it’s not hard to identify the primary cause of situational depression in teens. The COVID-19 pandemic has directly and indirectly led to a variety of stressors for young people. Fear and anxiety about one’s own health and the health of loved ones naturally effects teenage emotions. In addition, many teens have lost the structure and support provided by on-site school.

A recent poll conducted by the Harris Poll on behalf of 4H asked teens what made them anxious and depressed during the pandemic. They cited the following stressors:

Thinking about the future: 65 percent
Increased feelings of loneliness: 61 percent
Concerns about the world: 47 percent
Social isolation and inability to hand out with friends in person: 43 percent
Conducting school online: 42 percent
Being stuck at home with family: 40 percent
Economic uncertainties and financial stress: 34 percent
Loss of normalcy and routine: 34 percent
Cancellation of activities, jobs, and internships: 34 percent
Inability to go out: 33 percent
The government’s response in handling the pandemic: 31 percent
Defining their identity: 22 percent
Worrying about running out of basic necessities: 21 percent
College tests and college tours: 14 percent

Other Stressors Associated with Situational Depression

Beyond the circumstances of the pandemic, a variety of other types of stressors can catalyze situational depression. These include the following:

Chronic illness
Divorce or death in the family
Moving
Difficulties in school
A relationship breakup
An accident or natural disaster.

Identifying Situational Depression Symptoms

Situational vs. clinical depression symptoms are similar. While not as severe as clinical depression symptoms, situational depression symptoms cause significant distress and interfere with daily functioning. Teens with situational depression usually begin experiencing symptoms within three months of the stressful event or situation. These symptoms include the following:

Sadness, frequent crying, and low mood
Inability to concentrate
Lack of motivation
Withdrawal from social activities and other activities
Having a hard time enjoying things or experiencing pleasure
Feeling hopeless
Fatigue and difficulty sleeping
Anxiety and worry
Frequent stomachaches and headaches
Weight loss and/or changes in appetite
Abusing alcohol or drugs
Suicidal thoughts.

In addition, for a teen to receive a situational depression diagnosis, the symptoms cannot be attributed to another condition, to a substance abuse disorder, or to the grieving process after the death of a loved one.
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Situational Depression Treatment

Because depression increases the risk of suicide, teens should receive treatment for depression of any type. Comprehensive, evidence-based treatment is most effective in addressing depression, including situational depression symptoms.

Situational depression treatment includes individual and/or group therapy, using scientifically validated modalities such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. These approaches can help teens learn to reframe black-and-white ways of thinking that leave them feeling negative and hopeless about the future.

Moreover, family therapy can be useful in addressing situational depression. With the support of a therapist, the family can learn to make lifestyle changes that support healing from situational depression. In addition, family therapy techniques like Attachment-Based Family Therapy heal ruptures in the family system. Thus, teens feel more comfortable going to their parents for support when they’re experiencing symptoms that go beyond typical teenage emotions.
Everyday Habits to Help Ease Situational Depression

Whether or not they are experiencing situational depression symptoms, teens can support their well-being during this time—and throughout life—with healthy, positive habits. These include eating well, exercising, getting out in nature, and practicing mindfulness. Simple breathing and movement practices can be very impactful for counteracting symptoms of depression.

In summary, “What is situational depression?” is an important question for parents to ask right now. Armed with a clear understanding of this diagnosis, they can support teens who are suffering to get help before the problem gets worse. Once situational depression is addressed, teens can move into the future with resilience and a sense of hope.
Call us today for a free teen mental health assessment at 844-800-0618

Our qualified team of behavioral health experts can help you learn more about what you are seeing in your family, and provide the right resources to help your family heal from depression, trauma, anxiety, and other mental health concerns.

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