Situational vs. Clinical Depression

Everyone feels sad now and then.   This is normal and part of being a member of the human race, but depression is something different and can impact every area of a person’s life.

Very generally speaking, when a mental health professional looks at depression, we categorize it into one of two types- situational or clinical.  It’s important to know the difference to determine the best course of treatment.

Situational Depression

Situational depression is often called an adjustment disorder with depressed mood. It’s triggered by a traumatic event such as divorce, death, loss of a job or serious accident.  A teenager’s social world is a big part of their life and so social triggers such as rejection, moving schools or a break-up can also be a trigger.

Situational depression comes from a person having a difficult time coming to terms with the changes that have occurred.  Once the person moves through the phases toward acceptance and learns to cope, recovery is possible.

Some common symptoms are low energy, feelings of sadness, difficulty concentrating, moodiness, withdrawal, frequent episodes of crying and sometimes suicidal thoughts.  To learn more about warning signs and getting help, I’ve created a Parent’s Guide to Childhood Depression.

This often short-term adjustment phase of situational depression is very normal.  Symptoms of mild cases often cease on their own, but there are also things that can be done to help.

Helping Situational Depression

  • Exercise
  • Eating healthy, low-inflammatory foods (avoiding sugar and processed foods)
  • Having a regular sleep schedule
  • Engaging in a hobby or activity
  • Being around others and talking
  • Sunshine and fresh air!
  • Limiting time on screens

Clinical Depression

Clinical depression is more severe than situational depression.  Also called major depressive disorder, clinical depression is a mood disorder that often involves chemical imbalances in the brain.  It’s severe enough to interfere with daily life.

Genetic factors can play a role in clinical depression, but it could also develop as a response to trauma or stressful events, as with situational depression.  These major life events can trigger negative emotions such as anger, disappointment, or frustration.  Depression can change the way a person thinks and how the body works.

Symptoms of clinical depression have a substantial impact on a person’s daily life and have lasted longer than 2 weeks.   Some of these symptoms include depressed mood or constant irritability, significantly reduced interest or loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, changes in appetite, trouble making decisions or concentrating, recurrent thoughts of death, suicide or suicide attempts.  Some people with clinical depression experience psychotic disturbances like hallucinations or delusions.

Helping Clinical Depression

Clinical depression can last a long time and may require long-term treatment. Often a combination of medical treatment with therapy is used.  The goal is to find the right plan of treatment and to get the person back on track.

Next Steps

Life is meant to be enjoyed.  If you’re concerned about depression for yourself or a loved one, you can take the standard PHQ-9 screener, the same screener we use with clients in our practice.

Getting help for depression and talking with someone can really make a difference. You’re not alone.  Many parents, kids and teens go through difficult phases.  A professional counselor can often help sort things out.  The important thing is that you reach out to someone who can offer helpful, positive support.

Georgetown Child & Family Counseling provides professional counseling to children ages 3 and up, teens, young adults, and parents. To learn more about our practice and our counselors, you can visit us HERE.

Wishing you great peace and hope.


Jenna Fleming, LPC, NCC, is owner and clinician at Georgetown Child & Family Counseling.   She specializes in working with children, teens, young adults and those who care for them.  She is the author of the Deeply Rooted Parenting Series and regularly writes and speaks on topics that support parents, educators and counselors in doing the sacred work they do.