Understanding Situational vs. Clinical Depression

A lot of people may not understand that there are different types of depression, with varying diagnosis criteria and different treatment options. One of the biggest areas of confusion for many people is situational versus clinical depression.

Understanding how to differentiate between these two types of depression is so important because it dictates the course of treatment for depression that will be used.

Of course, ultimately your medical provider will provide a diagnosis, but if you can identify some of the red flags and distinctions between situation and clinical depression, it can help you more effectively communicate with your physician or therapist.

The following are some things to know when comparing situational and clinical depression.

What is Situational Depression?

Situational depression is also often called adjustment disorder, and many of the symptoms can be the same as what’s seen with clinical depression, but there are differences as well.

Situational depression usually occurs when there is a major life change that can take some time to adjust to, and you may struggle for a period of time to do that. For example, the birth of a child, the end of a relationship or a move are all common reasons people cite for experiencing situational depression.

A defining feature of this condition is that symptoms usually occur within around 90 days of the triggering event. It’s considered short-term for most people as well, although for some people it can be longer lasting.

What is Clinical Depression?

Clinical depression is also called major depressive disorder or major depression, and it is not only severe but interferes with a person’s daily functionality. It’s believed to be rooted in genetics, although it can be triggered by life events.

A clinical depression diagnosis usually occurs when someone has five or more symptoms from a specific list, for at least two weeks, for the majority of the day and almost every day.

A person with clinical depression isn’t able to just move past their symptoms, and they often have difficulty meeting their daily obligations.


What can be confusing with situational and clinical depression is the fact that symptoms can be similar with both.

Some of the symptoms can include a depressed mood, irritability, loss of pleasure or interest in activities, insomnia and other sleep problems, loss of energy, feeling guilty, or having problems making decisions.

Symptoms of clinical depression can also include delusions, hallucinations or psychosis, however, and those aren’t symptoms of situational depression.


As was touched on above, the treatment options for situational versus clinical depression are going to vary quite a bit. With situational depression, doctors may simply recommend a patient make lifestyle changes, such as exercising, eating well and having social support.

In some cases, particularly if the triggering event was very traumatic, a person with situational depression may benefit from speaking with a therapist.

On the other hand, with clinical depression there usually needs to be a comprehensive, long-term treatment plan in place. For clinical depression, the optimal treatment plan will often include a combination of counseling or talk therapy along with medication. For people with clinical depression that’s resistant to these treatments, their doctor may advise they seek other options like transcranial magnetic stimulation.