Reactive Depression: when Events Overwhelm us

February 18, 2020

Death, separation, stress at work, ongoing family drama… Reactive depression can arise from different causes.  This condition characterized by depression, despair and irritability always surfaces in response to one or several very specific external events that, at any give time, may overwhelm us.

We all know that it is not always easy to find the cause of depression. Physiological, environmental and personal issues can sometimes weave a very complicated web that can be difficult to unravel.  However it is safe to say that in many cases, there is a fairly clear trigger.  Stress appears that the patient cannot handle and that leads to a series of psychological processes that are as exhausting as they are crippling.

Reactive or situational depression is the most common mood disorder in the clinical field. In some ways, understanding this condition can help us to become aware of a simple fact within ourselves. We are all susceptible to experiencing this condition.

Beyond the physiological triggers, there are also things that are not always under our control. As Vicente Aleixandre said in one of his poems, ‘because life is difficult, so difficult that it is not enough to aggressively row forward. Sometimes, we get stranded.’

Silent woman with a boat suffers from Reactive Depression

What is reactive depression and its symptoms?

There is an obvious fact that most of us have seen on more than one occasion. When life impacts us in any  form (robbery, job loss, deception by a partner…) we do not all suffer the effects in the same way. There are those who, for whatever reason, have better resources, the higher psychological flexibility of a stronger, more resistant psyche.

On the other hand,  some suffer the blow as strongly as when someone throws an object at the windshield of a car. Usually the surface will not break right away. However, there will be a crack in the glass and something even more dangerous – residual stress.

Sooner or later that windshield will end up breaking. The same goes for many people who have experienced a traumatic event. It may take weeks before the symptoms of reactive depression begin to show. 

Symptoms of reactive depression

As we so often point out, no psychological disorder presents an exact symptomatology in each patient. Furthermore, at times we have a very heterogeneous and complex clinical picture. Also, with regard to reactive depression, another fact should be noted – it is closely linked to the personality of the patient. However, some of these distinguishing symptoms are usually evident:

  • The feeling of sadness and dejection is a common symptom in all patients. This emotional state arises after the event that the patient interprets as the trigger for his state.
  • Loss of interest in activities in all activities as well as a lack of pleasure, motivation or ability to carry our everyday tasks.
  • Complete loss of energy. The simple task of getting out of bed takes great effort.
  • Feelings of guilt and extreme negative thoughts.
  • Sole focus on the negatives aspects of everything that surrounds them.
  • One fact that helps specialists differential endogenous from reactive depression is that in the latter, there are no excessive physical symptoms. That is to say that patients do not exhibit excessive muscle pain, headache or weight loss. They do experience insomnia or hypersomnia.
Sad man at a window suffers from reactive depression

What factors predispose us to reactive depression?

There are several ongoing studies that give us more insight into the anatomy of this type of depression. Thus, neuropsychiatrists such as Jin Mizushima explain that although personality is a key factor, there are also other conditioning factors.  Let’s look at some of them.

  • Those who are exposed to constant stressful situations are more likely to develop this condition.
  • Those who demand a lot from themselves, perfectionists.
  •  While there is usually a genetic factor with endogenous depression, other factors such as low self- esteem and an externally focused lifestyle weigh more with reactive depression. They are psychological  conditions where people feel like they have no control over reality.  Everything that happens, successes or failures, depend on external events.

Treatment for reactive depression

As we stated at the beginning, reactive depression is one of the most common disorders among the population.  Usually it strikes young women.  However, despite it’s high rate of occurrence, we can say that out of all types of depression, this one has the best prognosis. In general, seeking professional help from a cognitive-behavioral therapist  will achieve the best results.

Visiting a psychologist is essential to begin to address the stressful events that led to the patient’s condition. Confronting those issues, managing the accumulation of emotions and promoting an adequate cognitive restructuring capable of generating more positive behaviors is without a doubt one of the best approaches.

In addition, the pharmacological aspect cannot be ignored. Antidepressants such as SSRIs, ISRNs, or tricyclics, for example, may also offer some relief.