Understanding Reactive Depression

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The Name May Change but the Symptoms Remain the Same

Although the term reactive might not be as widely used as it once was, depression of this type continues to be a challenging problem for many patients caught up in its grasp. More commonly referred to nowadays by such terms as neurotic or situational depression, or labeled adjustment disorder, the symptoms can be painful and overwhelming, often leaving patients in a state of hopeless despair. What makes reactive depression different from other types of depression is that there tends to be a clear-cut event that sets off the depressive symptoms in patients. Experiencing a period of bereavement after losing a loved one or reacting to the loss of one’s job are specific situations that may cause reactive depression.

Another term commonly associated with this type of depression is exogenous, i.e., something that affects the person from outside him or herself. The symptoms are, in essence, a psychological and emotional reaction to an incident.   This reflects the distinction between other depressive disorders that are classified as endogenous, which seem not to be caused by a precipitating event, but in which the development of depression is attributed to genetic or biological factors.

Despite the specific causation, the symptoms of reactive or situational depression are very similar to those of other types of depression. Likewise, the treatment is often determined more on the basis of how much of an impact the symptoms are having on the patient, rather than whether the depression is exogenous or endogenous in nature. Included among the most commonly reported symptoms of depression are sadness or low mood, lack of interest, altered sleeping habits, low energy, inability to concentrate or make decisions, feelings of guilt and or judgmental attitude towards self, appetite changes, and thoughts about self-injury or even death (Johns Hopkins, 2010).

It is important to realize that, even though a specific event may have precipitated reactive or situational depression, a person may continue to suffer depressive effects long after what might be considered a normal period of grieving or adjustment (GP, 2008). A depressive reaction that begins as a response to a single incident can also become prolonged, developing into a major depressive episode.  Reactive depression does not necessarily stick to any particular time frame.

There are some very common sense things that people with reactive depression can do to help cope with and manage their symptoms until they subside. It is oftentimes more helpful for a person to avoid becoming too isolated or withdrawn as they go through a period of grieving.  It is also not particularly helpful to keep everything bottled up inside.  Expressing one’s grief and venting anger can be much more helpful in facilitating the healing process. And, as hard as it can seem, it tends to be beneficial to the depressed person if they can maintain a certain amount of daily activity. Some people can make good use of these common sense approaches and begin to heal from their reactive depression in a reasonable amount of time. However, for those who cannot seem to find the way out of their sadness and apathy, there are a number of treatment options that have proven to be quite successful in addressing various types of depression.

Life can come with many ups and downs, and reactive depression is likely to accompany certain events in our lives.  No one is particularly immune or exempt from potentially becoming depressed at some time in the course of a lifetime. However, there are numerous medications and therapy modalities that can prevent such episodes from taking over your life.

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