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What Is the Difference Between Clinical and Situational Depression?

Medically reviewed by Jezreel Esguerra, MD · General Practitioner

Written by Den Alibudbud · Updated Dec 23, 2022

What Is the Difference Between Clinical and Situational Depression?

As the world fights the pandemic, a growing number of mental health experts are calling on everyone to take care of their mental health. As people are forced into lockdown or quarantine, the lack of physical and social interaction affects them in different ways. One of the results is depression. Find out more about the different kinds of depression here, including clinical depression vs situational depression.

What Is Depression?

The World Health Organization states that depression affects over 264 million people worldwide.

It’s a common mental disorder that has the following symptoms:

  • Bouts of sadness that may last for a long time
  • Sudden apathy towards activities that used to be pleasurable or rewarding

Depression can lead to other irregularities like:

  • Lack of sleep or disturbed sleep
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained tiredness
  • Poor concentration

Because of these symptoms, depression can affect a person’s ability to function normally. Since depression may last for a long time, its effects can also be long-lasting. And it may even recur.

Several factors can contribute to depression. These causes are different for each individual. A childhood trauma, unemployment, isolation, or financial worries can trigger depression. Causes can be biological, social, or psychological.

There are two types of depression– clinical and situational depression. Let’s examine each one in more detail.

What Is Clinical Depression?

Clinical depression is more commonly known as chronic or major depression. As the alternative names indicate, this type of depression can be persistent. Or it can happen just once but in a serious manner. And when depression is triggered, the overall mood of a person suffers. 

More specific types of depression also fall under this condition:

  • Persistent depressive disorder – a depressed mood that can last for at least two years
  • Postpartum depression – severe sadness that can afflict mothers who have just given birth
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – a change in season can trigger this severe depression, and most cases happen during winter
  • Psychotic depression – a type of depression triggered by psychosis

A person with clinical depression must exhibit at least five symptoms, with a persistent depressed mood being the most common sign.

This mood is similar to a feeling of sadness, emptiness, hopelessness, or pessimism. Although sadness is considered a normal human emotion, it is when a person experiences it consistently that it becomes a serious issue.

Other common symptoms are:

  • A sudden loss of interest in normal activities or hobbies
  • Developing a sense of guilt, helplessness, or worthlessness on top of the depressive mood
  • Having less energy, feeling tired or slowing down even when doing ordinary tasks
  • An inability to concentrate on normal tasks, remember details, or make decisions
  • Developing sleep-related problems like insomnia or oversleeping
  • Developing food-related issues like overeating or experiencing a lack of appetite
  • Being persistently restless, irritable, or anxious
  • Developing physical issues like chronic headaches, stomach problems, or heart palpitations
  • Having suicidal thoughts or attempting suicide

According to the US National Institute of Mental Health, the symptoms of clinical depression can vary according to the gender of a person.

Women usually develop emotional symptoms such as sadness or notions of worthlessness or guilt. Meanwhile, men are more likely to develop behavioral symptoms, such as insomnia or loss of interest in activities or hobbies.

What Is Situational Depression?

Situational depression is also called adjustment disorder with depressed mood. Basically, it happens when a person goes through a traumatic situation and the person cannot cope with the change that happens. When the person has adjusted to the event or the change, then the depression can eventually go away.

Like clinical depression, there are many causes of situational depression like the death of a loved one, marital problems, retirement, or bullying at school. The root of these causes, though, is the same: stress. People who cannot deal with stress are more at risk of suffering from situational depression.

This type of depression has symptoms similar to that of clinical depression. These include changes to a person’s emotional condition (such as sadness, or pessimism), or behavioral condition (such as irritability, or turning to drugs). It also includes changes in physical condition (such as chronic headaches or stomach aches).

For a case to be diagnosed as situational depression, a person needs to undergo physical and psychological exams first so that physical illnesses or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be ruled out as the cause of the symptoms.

Clinical Depression Vs Situational Depression

Clinical depression vs situational depression has two major differences.

Length of the Depression

As stated earlier, clinical depression is persistent and can last for years. Meanwhile, situational depression may go away when the person adapts to the new situation or talks about the event that triggered the depression.

That means a person with clinical depression may recover faster than someone with situational depression. However, this doesn’t mean that situational depression has less of an effect on a person. Both types can affect the mental well-being of a person in serious ways. Further, if situational depression persists, then it can eventually develop into clinical depression.

Clinical Depression Vs Situational Depression: Triggers

Specific events in a person’s life trigger situational depression. Such major events can also trigger clinical depression. However, genetics or substance dependence can also trigger clinical depression.

If you experience any of the events or symptoms stated above, don’t keep your condition a secret. Remember, depression is a common mental condition because it affects many people. The most important step is to consult your doctor so that you can take steps to manage and eventually, overcome your depression.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Jezreel Esguerra, MD

General Practitioner

Written by Den Alibudbud · Updated Dec 23, 2022

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