Reactive Depression: What You Need to Know

Depression is one of the world’s most common mental disorders, and unsurprisingly comes in all sorts of different shapes and sizes.

Depression is merely the umbrella covering a spectrum of depressive disorders, included amongst these disorders is reactive depression, also known as adjustment disorder.

Here’s a short overview of reactive depression:

reactive depression

What is Reactive Depression?

Reactive Depression is a stress-related mental illness, usually triggered by difficult and stressful life events such as a divorce, job loss or the loss of a family member.

Normally, our brains can adjust to these events over the course of about 2-3 months.

After this period, as emotions stabilize and stress levels drop we feel more or less back to normal.

However, reactive depression manifests when the depressed feeling stays for longer (up to 6 months) or brings self-destructive behaviours that interferes with the individual’s daily life.

Although reactive depression is usually caused by negative events, positive events can also trigger it, such as having a new baby which, although a joyous event, brings along with it overwhelm and excessive stress.

What are the Symptoms of Reactive Depression?

Symptoms of reactive depression can appear 3 months after the triggering event, and can include: reckless behaviour, anti-social behaviour, performance issues at school/work and not tending to housework or paying bills.

These symptoms in turn have a “domino” effect on other areas of life which may exacerbate the depression even more.

In terms of emotional symptoms, the individual will often experience feelings of desperation and overwhelm, hopelessness, anxiety and persistent sadness. Along with these symptoms can be lack of sleep, concentration issues and suicidal obsessive thoughts.

Your doctor can help diagnose reactive depression based on all sorts of different factors.

If an individual is suffering from chronic stress whether it be from relationships, financial or career, this can bring on reactive depression more easily than if the individual experiences a low-stress life.

A persons genetics, life experiences and temperament can also factor in so its important you inform your doctor of all possible triggers for an accurate diagnosis.

Who is at Risk of Reactive Depression?

Those who experience stress, so just about everyone, are at risk of developing reactive depression.

Teens however are more susceptible to it because of hormonal changes and the general stress that comes along with being a teenager.

Women are at greater risk than men in experiencing reactive depression and it is also more likely to develop in people who have been in abusive relationships and/or who have a history of substance abuse.

How is Reactive Depression Treated?

Reactive depression is extremely common and most of us will go through it at least once in our lifetime.

The good news about reactive depression though, is that unlike other depressive disorders like clinical depression which deals which chemical imbalances in the brain, Reactive Depression is usual a relatively mild form of depression that is a little easier to treat.

Depending on the severity or length of the depression, it is often recommended to combine treatments for faster and more effective recovery:

  • Anti-anxiety or antidepressants over the course of a few months which are then tapered off once the depression subsides.
  • Talking therapy one on one or in a group is extremely helpful, since the event that triggered is usually known to the individual, talking about it to a therapist proves to be very effective. Therapists can also recommend cognitive behavioural therapy coping methods to the patient which can be used at home.
  • Self care is important in treating many depressive disorders. Getting enough sleep, eating well and exercising can often fend off reactive depression or at least speed up recovery.
  • Journaling can be an excellent way to calm the mind and reduce anxiety by writing down thoughts and feelings in the moment.

When a specific event is the cause of your depression, it can feel as though you are not in control.

A method to relieve anxiety associated with reactive depression, is to anticipate stressors and plan to deal with them before they happen.

An example can be if you are moving off to college, you can focus on making your college dorm as comfortable and welcoming as possible and to stay busy and organized in order to adjust to this new change.

Reactive depression can be devastating and feel like it may never go away, but the tools for treatment are within reach and when implemented have been proven to be very effective.

If you think you may have reactive depression, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor about treatment options.

No one should have to suffer alone with this disorder along with the spectrum of other depressive disorders, always seek help!