Depression: What is Reactive Depression?

Let me begin by saying that there is no “formal diagnosis” for reactive depression. However, it is recognized as an adjustment disorder according to the fifth Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) triggered by a traumatic event, a stressful situation, or an external problem. Adjustment disorders can happen at any age and are common in children and adolescents. If unresolved, they can lead to worsening feelings, emotions, and behaviors.

It might help to think about reactive depression as a descriptor, describing symptoms of depression that occur in response to an external problem or stressor. Life is full of such events which can include anything from difficult life circumstances that include physical assault or a natural disaster. Any event that causes an adverse psychological reaction as a result of a stress-related situation can qualify as reactive depression. Sometimes called situational depression, the symptoms can mimic those of major depressive disorder.

Reactive Depression Exceeds The Range of Normal Reactions

In the realm of mental health, there is a range of “normal” responses to stressful situations. Reactive depression describes emotional difficulties that exceed this range. In some cases, reactive depression symptoms will resolve as the situation improves. Yet sometimes, symptoms can persist and progress into a more chronic condition that may lead to major depressive disorder.

A sign that a person may be experiencing reactive depression is recognized impaired functioning in one or more areas, such as at work, in the home, during leisure time, socially, or at school. The impaired functioning is a noticeable change in behavior following a stressful psychosocial event.
Examples of non-traumatic stressful events that may lead to reactive depression include:

  • A family conflict
  • A stressful situation at work
  • Financial hardship
  • An illness or accident
  • A divorce or breakup
  • A move to a new location

Many people experience these and other types of commonly occurring situations without having any major issues or any kind of recognized adjustment disorder because they are able to maintain the same level of functioning as prior to the stressful event. There’s no way to predict what situation might cause reactive depression in any individual, nor at what age one might be subject to experiencing an event beyond what is considered a normal reactive range.

Treatment of Reactive Depression

Since there is no formal diagnosis for reactive depression, people who seek help will be treated in the same way as someone dealing with other forms of depression. Here at Serenity and Wellness Counseling, we address and treat depression through several research-based modalities. We know that depression is experienced differently, and people respond to approaches differently. In our holistic approach to healing depression, we employ Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR).
No matter how you are personally experiencing depression, it is possible to identify and change negative thought patterns and to develop healthy ways to deal with stressful situations and feel like participating fully in your life again. To begin your journey of healing and empowerment, you can call me at 281-944-SWCC for a free 15-minute phone consultation. I look forward to working with you. The good news is that treatment for reactive depression can be brief and is likely to help you regain your emotional footing.


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