Research on reactive depression hasn't narrowed down the cause or why some individuals develop the disorder versus others, but a person's life experiences, genetics, and even general mood or temperament are likely influential. Earlier we mentioned some singular or one-time stressful events that can bring on adjustment disorders, but it also can settle in as a result of ongoing stress. Prolonged financial problems, living in a dangerous neighborhood or battling chronic illness can bring on reactive depression all of a sudden after a crisis moment or during a breakdown. It also may be more likely to set in for people who grew up under difficult circumstances, such as in abusive families or those mired in substance abuse [source: Mayo Clinic].
All of these factors are worth mentioning to a professional trained to diagnose depressive disorders or to a physician who can refer you to a psychiatrist or counselor. In some cases, it's essential to get help right away, especially if you, a friend or a loved one is having suicidal thoughts. As mentioned briefly, teens are also at increased risk for longer-lasting reactive depression, which may have something to do with hormones, as well as with the general stressfulness of being a teenager and experiencing the ups and downs of school and making decisions about the next steps into young adulthood. Situational depression actually can increase the risk of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, as well as antisocial behaviors or withdrawal in teens [source: Mayo Clinic].
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, get help immediately through 911 or your local emergency response agency.
Reactive depression often just subsides over time, but if the symptoms seem to be hanging on without an improvement, seek help from a doctor and before the appointment, keep track of thoughts, moods and behaviors that can help in diagnosing the problem. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, reactive depression will include all of these factors: having behavioral or emotional problems within three months of experiencing a stressful event; having more stress than is considered normal in response to a problem or event; and having symptoms subside or go away within six months after a stressful incident [source: Mayo Clinic]. A timeline of symptoms and even a general description of how long you've been in a funk or a mood you can't get out of can help in diagnosis. If depression persists beyond six months, the disorder is likely chronic and not reactive.
If all of the detailed questions and answers with a physician or mental health professional do confirm reactive depression, should you wait it out or seek treatment? We'll look at options, next.