Situational Depression in Teens

By Ashley Miller
Teens with situational depression often have difficulty focusing on schoolwork.
Teens with situational depression often have difficulty focusing on schoolwork.

Almost all teens feel low or down in the dumps at times, especially when unfortunate events occur. Feeling upset or sad is a normal reaction to these events. But situational depression is different than just feeling sad. Teens with situational depression experience symptoms of clinical depression that, in most cases, subside after a short period. Around 30 percent of people will experience situational depression at some point in their teenage years, according to Dr. Chris Iliades, in an article for Everyday Health.

About Situational Depression

Situational depression is similar to clinical depression, except it occurs mainly in response to specific, negative events. Unlike clinical depression, it tends to be short-lived, according to a 2013 article in the "Lawrence Journal-World." People with situational depression usually feel depressed within 90 days of the negative or unhappy event, according to Elements Behavioral Health. It generally occurs when teens have not adapted or adjusted to life after the negative event. Situational depression involves many of the same symptoms of clinical depression, such as feeling extremely sad or hopeless, academic decline, problems sleeping, changes in appetite, social withdrawal or frequent crying spells.

Why It Happens

The teen years tend to be filled with stress from a variety of sources such as academic pressure, family issues, social concerns and physical changes. Although they might seem moody at times, many teens manage these stressors with little or no negative effect on their mental health. But when a negative or catastrophic event occurs such as divorce, the illness or death of a family member, crime or a natural disaster, teens might find that they have no coping skills left to draw on. It's somewhat like the straw that broke the camel's back -- teens might develop situational depression because their systems are overloaded and they simply are unable to handle or deal with the scope of the event.

What Parents Can Do

It's normal for parents to feel concerned or even helpless when their teen experiences situational depression. In many cases, the negative event might have an effect on parents, so it can be difficult to help your teen cope if you also feel unable to cope. Parents suffering from situational depression should address their symptoms so that they have more resources available to help their teen. You can help your teen deal with situational depression by being supportive and talking with her about her feelings. She might not want to discuss her feelings right away, but it's important that she feels comfortable coming to you when she's ready to open up. Try to avoid lecturing or criticizing, and don't try to talk her out of it, suggests Help Guide. Let her know that her feelings are valid and understandable.

Additional Help

Situational depression should be addressed in the same way as clinical depression, according to the "Lawrence Journal-World" article. If you notice that your teen is really having a hard time and is unable to focus on school or engage in other areas of her life, consult her doctor for a referral to a qualified pediatric psychiatrist. In some cases, situational depression can become worse if left untreated. Talk therapy or other forms of treatment can help her bounce back and improve her overall well-being.

About the Author

Ashley Miller is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, certified Reiki practitioner, yoga enthusiast and aromatherapist. She has also worked as an employee assistance program counselor and a substance-abuse professional. Miller holds a Master of Social Work and has extensive training in mental health diagnosis, as well as child and adolescent psychotherapy. She also has a bachelor's degree in music.