What causes depression?

What causes depression?
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She lost her mother this year. The one and only person in this world that she felt understood her, supported her and loved her. Since that day she has laid around, sleeping for hours or watching the same syndicated television shows. Many may look at her and see someone who is not ambitious or a slacker but if you take a deeper look at her situation you will understand that she is suffering from situational depression or adjustment disorder because of the lost of her mother.

Situational depression is a short-term condition that occurs when a person is unable to cope with, or adjust to, a particular source of stress, such as a major life change, loss, or event (WebMD, 2011). Situational depression is very similar to the symptoms of depression, such as sadness, a feeling of hopelessness, and a loss of interest in things once enjoyed, and if left alone and untreated then it could very well become depression.


The important thing to remember about situational depression is that it is triggered by an outside stress or loss and tends to go away once the person has adapted to the situation (WebMD, 2011). But let’s look at some of the stressors or losses that can trigger situational depression, which varies from person-to-person:

  • The ending of a relationship or marriage.
  • Lose or change of a job.
  • The death of a loved one
  • A loved one or the person develops a serious illness.
  • Being a victim of a crime.
  • Having a car or work-related accident.
  • Undergoing a major life change (i.e. marriage, birth of a new child, or retiring from a job).
  • Surviving a disaster, such as a natural disaster or fire.

Depression Symptoms

Regardless of the event encountered by the person, he/she develops some form of emotional and/or behavioral symptoms, which typically begin to surface within three month so the event and oftentimes subsides after six months. Doctors recommend scheduling an appointment immediately, if the symptoms last for more than six months. To better understand situational depression, let’s take a look at some of the symptoms:

  • Depressed mood
  • Tearfulness
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Feeling nervous
  • Having body symptoms such as headache, stomachache or heart palpitations
  • Missing work, school or social activities
  • Changes in sleeping or eating habits
  • Feeling tired
  • Abusing alcohol or drugs

“Situational depression means that the symptoms are set off by some set of circumstances or event. It could lead to major depression or simply be a period of grief,” explains Kathleen Franco, MD, professor of medicine and psychiatry at Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine in Ohio. However, she adds that situational depression may need treatment “if emotional and behavioral symptoms reduce normal functioning in social or occupational arenas.” It is important to note that while these signs are similar to major depression symptoms that they differ because situational depression is caused by a loss or a traumatic event and is often corrected once the person adjusts to the loss or event. Dr. Chris LLiades wrote in his 2009 article, When Life Gets You Down: Coping with Situational Depression, that this form of depression is common and can happen to anyone - about 10 percent of adults and up to 30 percent of adolescents experience this condition at some point.


Experiencing a loss hurts, regardless if it’s a relationship, job, personal property or a loved one can cause undue stress and emotional pains if taken away suddenly. Situational depression or adjustment disorder is a real mental condition and the person going through it needs the same support as someone suffering from major depression. The symptoms are real because the losses are real. If you have noticed that you or someone you love is suffering from situational depression because of a traumatic loss then monitor their emotional and behavioral symptoms, help them cope with the loss and if their condition lasts for more than six months seek immediate medical attention.


Lliades, C. (2009). When life gets you down: coping with situational depression. Retrieved from https://www.everydayhealth.com/depression/coping-with-situational-depression.aspx.

WebMD. (2011). Mental health and adjustment disorder. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/mental-health-adjustment-disorder.

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