6 minutes

What Is Situational Depression?

Medically Reviewed
Last Medically Reviewed on: March 15, 2023

One of the hardest things to understand about depression is that it can be both something that is caused by a situation and something that is caused by abnormal function in your brain and body. Both types of depression are valid, and it can often be hard to tell what you’re dealing with in the moment.

After all, most situational depression [1] feels pretty similar to being depressed with chronic depression or another mental illness. The trick is that these types of depression are different, need different kinds of support, and are best addressed by different things.
On the surface, it can be hard to know what you’re dealing with. And only a professional can really give you a solid diagnosis of what you’re dealing with.
Here’s what you need to know, specifically about situational depression in teens, and what that can look and feel like while it’s happening.

situational depression

What Is Situational Depression?

The first thing you need to know about situational depression is that this form of depression is usually temporary, and is a reaction to a specific situation or set of circumstances. Once the stressing situation is resolved the symptoms of the depression also generally get better.

That said, nothing about situational depression is any less valid or serious than clinical depression. While clinical depression is typically more severe, that isn’t universally true, and your experiences are valid regardless of the diagnosis you receive, or the contributing factors involved in how you are feeling.

At the same time, people are a little more likely to experience situational depression, and chances are most people you know either have or will eventually experience situational depression.

The good news is that situational depression is usually a short-term condition, and can resolve on its own even without treatment.

However, getting treatment for persistent feelings of depression is always a good idea, even if you think you’re dealing with situational depression. For one thing, getting treatment can help make your symptoms more bearable, and you might learn coping mechanisms and tools you can use to make stressful situations easier to manage in the future.

Is Situational Depression The Same As Clinical Depression?

No, but the symptoms of situational depression and clinical depression may be similar. The main difference is that situational depression has a direct cause from various situations and will get better once the situation causing the depression is resolved.

Clinical depression, on the other hand, usually lasts longer, may be more severe, and can come on without any specific stressors or causes. Unlike situational depression, the symptoms of depression don’t necessarily get better because you’ve gotten into a better situation or because you’ve gotten enough distance from the specific event that started the depression.

Is Situational Depression Different From PTSD?

Yes. While both situational depression and PTSD can be caused by a traumatic event, situational depression can also be caused by non-traumatic stressful events and situations, and the symptoms of the two disorders are different.

Importantly, situational depression is a form of depression, while PTSD is generally considered an anxiety disorder. People who have PTSD may also have depression or may experience situational depression before and after developing PTSD, but while the two disorders can sound similar and may even have similar causes, they need different treatments and have clinically significant differences in symptoms

Critically, one of the hallmarks of PTSD is having flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, and continuing to have memories you would rather forget or at least not think about, and avoiding thinking or talking about the source of these memories or similar things.

That said, the situation that causes what initially presents as situation depression may turn into PTSD [2] depending on the situation and how symptoms progress and what treatments and support systems are available to you at the time.

Signs And Symptoms Of Situational Depression

The signs and symptoms of situational depression [3] in teens are generally similar to the signs and symptoms of other kinds of depression, but they may come on more suddenly, or come and go as the teen goes into and gets out of the specific situation causing the depression.

For instance, a teen may experience situational depression because of problems with a specific family member, or as a reaction to trouble at home. The longer they go without having those problems, the more likely they are to come out of the depression at least temporarily. But when those family problems start up again, their symptoms are likely to get worse again.

That’s a simplified example, but it illustrates some of how this disorder works and is different from other kinds of depression.

Symptoms of situational depression include:

  • Consistent feelings of sadness
  • Consistent feelings of hopelessness
  • Lack of enjoyment doing things you used to enjoy
  • Crying more often than usual
  • Consistent worrying
  • Difficulty sleeping or waking up
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Changes in appetite
  • Feeling overwhelmed or burnt out
  • Avoiding social situations
  • Not taking care of yourself or your responsibilities
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide

One of the tricky parts of situational depression is that both positive and negative stresses can cause it. Your teen might win a big competition and now need to get ready for an even bigger competition, and start feeling depressed because of the added pressure.

Sudden changes in health status, both good and bad, can cause situational depression. So can moving to a bad neighborhood, experiencing financial stress, the death of a loved one or friend, social issues at school, or sudden changes in grades, good or bad

The only requirement for a situation or event to cause situational depression is that it be stressful. The source of the stress doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

Can You Have Situational Depression Without Knowing What Caused It?

Yes! In fact, it’s relatively common for people dealing with situational depression to not know what’s causing their feelings, or how to address them. It’s especially common for teens to experience this because they might not realize that what they are experiencing isn’t normal, or that the way they feel isn’t a normal part of being a teenager.

It’s also common for people who have a history of being in similar situations to not recognize that the situation is abnormal, or even sometimes that it’s a source of stress and contributing to their feelings of depression.

It’s also important to remember that people with other mental health disorders can also experience situational depression in addition to their other disorders. That can be more complicated, since there are often a lot of shared symptoms between situational depression and other disorders, and because patients and the professionals treating them may initially think that the new or worsening symptoms are a result of their other disorder rather than a specific situation or event.

Like all mental health concerns, situational depression is complicated, and the more other things going on in someone’s life, the more complicated it might be.

Can Situational Depression Turn Into Chronic Depression?


Unfortunately, situational depression and chronic depression are more terms of duration and severity than specific origins. People who have chronic depression also often meet the criteria for situational depression at different points in their depression, but their symptoms are more consistent and don’t get as much better between stressful events.

However, if someone has a lot of risk factors for depression and is fine until a stressful event triggers situational depression, sometimes they may not get better the same way someone with fewer risk factors might, or they might need more therapy and more support to get back to feeling normal again.

There isn’t really a good way to tell who is most likely to have episodic or temporary feelings of depression and who is likely to have a chronic form of the disorder. The important part is that you aren’t alone, regardless of what kind of depression you have. Your depression also isn’t your fault, even if it doesn’t get better on its own.

how to get extra help for your teen

How To Get Extra Help For Your Teen

If you are a teen worried that you’re dealing with depression and not sure how to get help, or the parents or guardian of a teen you’re worried about, you’re in the right place. Getting help can feel overwhelming, but it can also be one of the single best things you do to help cope with and overcome depression.

At BasePoint Academy we use a variety of scientifically backed treatment options to create dynamic and individualized treatment programs for teens dealing with a range of problems. If you have situational depression, chronic depression, or even a different mental health disorder, we can help you figure out what’s going on and create a treatment plan designed specifically to help you.

Get Your Teen The Help They Need to Heal & Thrive

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Get Your Teen The Help They Need to Heal & Thrive

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[1] Cirino E. Healthline. (2018, October 3). Situational depression: symptoms, causes, and treatment. Retrieved from on 2023, January 24

[2] American Psychiatric Association. (2022, November). What is posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? Retrieved from on 2023, January 24

[3] Cherry, K. Verywell Mind. (2022, May 2). An overview of situational depression. Retrieved from on 2023, January 24