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Under the weather or weathering under: What is situational depression?

Aug 25, 2020 | By Kirsten Harrison
Under the weather or weathering under: What is situational depression?

Situational depression and clinical depression can mirror one another now more than ever due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s important to be able to reflect on your current situation and see whether you may just be experiencing quarantine fatigue or something more along the lines of situational or clinical depression.

Situational depression versus clinical depression: Understanding these concepts

Situational depression and clinical depression both form part of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) that practitioners use to diagnose conditions. In order to have the diagnosis, there are certain criteria that need to be met by the individual. Situational depression forms part of the adjustment disorder section of the DSM and can be understood as a stress related type of depression that is short term in nature. It is usually as a result of a life event that overwhelms a person’s regular coping mechanisms and they start experiencing symptoms up to 3 months after the life stressor occurred.

Some of the symptoms include losing interest in pleasurable activities, often feeling sad, worried, hopeless or overwhelmed, noted changes in eating and sleeping patterns as well as suicidal thoughts.

When it comes to making the distinction between situational depression and clinical depression, besides experiencing a large, stressful event, the main factor in making this diagnosis is linked to the time period that the person has been experiencing these symptoms. Since most of the symptoms between situational and clinical depression are shared, the diagnosis simply describes how pervasive the symptoms are.

Feeling depressed during the COVID-19 pandemic

Everyone feels depressed from time to time and as many as one in four South Africans will experience enough anxiety or depression at some point in their lifetime to receive a diagnosis from a mental health professional. Coping during the Coronavirus pandemic has taken its toll on a lot of people, it has resulted in the loss of freedom, the loss of income and for some, the loss of life. The lockdown has created a situation where the majority of the population are spending day in and day out in their homes. Due to this, people may find themselves feeling slightly more irritable than usual or start lacking motivation to the tasks they once enjoyed. Others may find themselves more lethargic or see changes in their eating or sleeping patterns. It is expected that people may be struggling to cope more than usual as a lot of coping mechanisms have been taken away by the lockdown restrictions, for example.

Because of increased stress, even people who don’t usually experience feelings of depression in their everyday life are likely to feel them with more intensity and frequency and people who already struggle with these feelings might begin to feel overwhelmed. These increased levels of sadness are a natural expression in a difficult time and identifying this is an important part of the process. We need to work towards genuinely exploring and expressing our authentic emotions, especially when circumstances are more challenging.

How to deal with situational depression

If you are feeling like you can relate to some of the aspects mentioned above, it is important to reflect on if these feelings were present before the pandemic/lockdown or started only after – this would be a starting point. By reflecting on these aspects it may help guide you in what steps to take next. Although it isn’t always easy, it is important that we reach out when we are struggling. Often we are reluctant because it doesn’t seem “bad enough” to seek help for example, you may be telling yourself, it’s just sleep or it’s just feeling down – sometimes by doing this, we actually minimize our authentic experience. We need to work on normalizing receiving help for mental health concerns. For those looking for some direction on reaching out for help, the below contact details can be a great starting point. Remember that we need to stay in touch with the reality of our current situation, whatever the circumstances, and sometimes that involves help from others.

The Counselling Hub:

SADAG:

Lifeline:

FAMSA:

  • 086 641 6882

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