Reactive depression is depression that is caused “in reaction to” an external event or circumstance. In other words, it is a state of depression that people experience in response to a major stressor such as a break up, death of a family member, divorce, workplace harassment, etc. Any psychosocial incident that causes an individual to react in a state of depression is considered a trigger. Since everyone is different a single stressful event may cause someone to react with depression while another person may not have as severe of a reaction.
This is evidenced by individuals that experience death in the family – certain family members may be able to successfully rebound from feelings of depression while others may “react” with significant depression. Most people that struggle with reactive depression can usually recover from their condition within a period of 6 months through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
What is reactive depression?
Reactive depression is a type of clinical depression that should be distinguished from PTSD – in which a person experiences more significant symptoms. Reactive depression is typically characterized in relationship to the events that caused it. For example, someone who is victim to a burglary or “break in” may experience depression associated with getting robbed.
This depression becomes a concern and needs to be addressed if it persists for an excessive period of time and the individual does not recover. Eventually this feeling of depression fades and the person will return to normal behavior and emotional outlook. In other words, reactive depression is temporary as opposed to major depression which is generally long term.
If a person isn’t treated with proper therapy for this condition, symptoms may persist and significantly interfere with daily functioning at work, school, and relationships.
Reactive Depression Symptoms
There are a variety of symptoms that people with reactive depression may experience. Everyone reacts differently to stressful events and everyone’s experience with reactive depression is unique. Some people may experience appetite changes and crying spells while others may experience intense anxiety and turn to drugs and alcohol for relief. Below are some of the common symptoms that people experience.
- Anger: Certain individuals may feel angry as a result of the stressful event that occurred. This anger is typically accompanied with sadness and anxiety.
- Anxiety: You may feel fearful and or anxious in situations that used to feel relaxing and/or normal. It is common to experience anxiety as a strong comorbid symptom of your depression.
- Appetite changes: Some people cope with their depression by either eating a lot of food or avoiding food altogether. You may notice yourself not wanting to eat or turning to food as an emotional coping mechanism.
- Confusion: Sometimes all of the stress and emotional depression can cause people to feel somewhat confused. You may experience memory issues, trouble focusing, and a general confusion about why you haven’t recovered.
- Crying Spells: Some people experience major crying spells because they are not able to get over the event that caused them to feel depressed. Crying may occur on a daily basis, multiple times a day, or less frequent such as a couple of times per week.
- Drug abuse: When many people are faced with reactive depression, they don’t know how to cope with the emotional pain so they turn to alcohol and drugs. These are typically not safe or sustainable ways to cope with the condition.
- Feeling hopeless: Reactive depression can make people feel hopeless about life and the future. It can be tough to pull yourself out of this state, so usually outside intervention via therapy is what is necessary to recover.
- Headaches: Many people with depression can experience somatic symptoms – headaches are one of the most common. Additionally, stress itself can lead to headaches if not properly dealt with.
- Insomnia: If you have reactive depression, you may have difficulty sleeping. You may constantly think about how you feel and/or the condition that caused you to react with depression.
- Irritability: It is common to become irritable when you are depressed. You may become impatient and/or get angry at minor things. Every little thing may get on your nerves or “set you off.”
- Palpitations: If you have heart palpitations, you may notice that your heart is fluttering, beating rapidly, or irregularly. This is not a major medical condition – rather a symptom of the stress and depression that you are experiencing.
- Sadness: The sadness that you experience in reaction to an event or circumstance may be intense. When we don’t treat this intense sadness, we stay stuck in a rut.
- Self-destructive behavior: People may end up engaging in self-destructive behavior such as not taking care of themselves, abusing drugs, not eating, cutting, and/or other reckless behavior.
- Sleep problems: Many people experience problems staying asleep at night. They may experience broken sleep and/or possibly sleep too much.
- Social isolation: For certain people, the only way that they can cope with their reactive depression is to isolate themselves from other people. This isn’t a good idea and can actually lead to further depression.
- Somatic symptoms: People may experience physical symptoms such as pain, gastrointestinal problems, etc. as a result of reactive depression.
- Suicidal thoughts: It is not uncommon for the depression to become so intense that someone contemplates taking their life. If this is the case, it is important to get yourself in to professional psychologist or psychotherapist for help.
- Worry: Many people can experience intense worry about the way they feel and the future.
Reactive Depression Causes
There are a variety of triggers for reactive depression. What causes one person to react with intense depression may not have the same effect on another person. Below are some common causes of reactive depression.
- Abusive relationships: If you are trapped in an abusive relationship and feel as if there is no way out, you may react with extreme depression.
- Accident: The fact is that people get into accidents all the time. Some people are not able to control their emotional response and end up getting very depressed.
- Break ups: Breaking up with your significant other is no fun. Although it may be necessary to break up, it may also be emotionally painful – which can trigger reactive depression.
- Burglary: If you fall victim to a burglary, robbery, and/or theft, you may experience depressive symptoms.
- Changing jobs: Some people may experience this reactive depression as a result of changing employment.
- Death in the family: If one of your parents and/or close family members dies, it is common to react feeling depressed. If the depression persists longer than normal, this could be classified as reactive depression. Certain people may also experience this when a close pet passes away.
- Divorce: Just like break ups, a divorce can lead to extreme emotional reaction, which may be stressful enough to cause reactive depression.
- Financial problems: Anyone that is in debt, experiencing bad credit, or having difficulty paying off loans can become very depressed.
- Fire: Losing all of your belongings in a house fire could cause someone to experience this type of depression.
- Getting fired: Getting laid off or fired from your job can certainly be a trigger.
- Harassment: This could be a result of harassment at work or school.
- Loss of a friend: If a close friend moves away, dies, or the relationship is terminated, you may end up not being able to get over the depression.
- Moving: Change of environment or moving to a new city, moving homes, or something as simple as switching apartments can result in reactive depression.
- Natural disaster: If you fall victim to a natural disaster such as a hurricane, tornado, flood, etc. you may lose your home and possessions. In this case, you may experience a state of reactive depression until you come to psychological grips with your situation.
- Retirement: Although retirement tends to have a generally positive connotation, certain people end up depressed because they don’t know how to live without the structure of a job and socialization from their employer.
- Struggling in school: Getting bad grades or even a bad report card can make certain individuals feel as though they are a total failure. Certain people can get really depressed over a bad report card.
- Work: Simply being at a job that you hate or getting harassed could lead to depression.
Reactive Depression Treatment Options
There are a few different treatment options for reactive depression. Most people respond best to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Any trained psychologist or psychotherapist will likely be able to help people come to grips with this condition and help them get over the hump. If the person isn’t recovering, then antidepressants may be recommended.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – Cognitive behavioral therapy works by addressing the underlying depression and helps the individual by suggesting behavior changes as well as changes in thinking. This technique involves using rational thinking in combination with behavioral changes to overcome the “reactive” behavior.
- Psychotherapy – Other psychotherapeutic approaches may be beneficial to individuals with this type of depression. Simple talk therapy can help people express their emotions and come up with a plan to overcome the way they are feeling.
- Self-Care – It is important to take good care of yourself while experiencing this type of depression. Make sure that you are eating as well as possible, getting adequate sleep, utilizing relaxation techniques to reduce stress, and getting exercise. For more information, read about natural cures for depression.
- Social Support – Sometimes something as simple as having a good social support network can help people bounce back from their depressive state.
- Antidepressants – Sometimes if CBT and/or psychotherapy doesn’t seem to be working, a person may be prescribed antidepressants to help them cope and bounce back from their condition. Typically if someone is on antidepressants to treat reactive depression, it is only a temporary stint just to help them get over the emotional hump.
The prognosis for this condition is very good. Most people end up responding to treatment relatively quick once the underlying problem is addressed and the person is given tools to help them cope. Most people recover within months of ongoing professional treatment.
Have you ever had to deal with reactive depression? Most people have.
If you have had to deal with reactive depression and/or are struggling with it right now, feel free to share your comments and/or experiences in the comments section below. This is a common condition that many people have to deal with as a result of life stressors. Not everyone may admit that they have this condition or even know that they have it so often times it goes unreported.
However, if you know that you are depressed in response to a certain circumstance such as an abusive relationship or recent loss of a family member, this is reactive depression. Feel free to share your thoughts and/or successful ways of coping below.