Definition of Reactive Depression

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Reactive depression is a subtype of clinical depression or major depressive disorder. It is also sometimes called an adjustment disorder with depressed mood, and is characterized by a depressed state in direct response to an external event. The subsequent depression tends to be mild to moderate, and typically will not persist beyond several months after the stressful event. The reaction can be abnormally severe, however, necessitating professional help.


Life is full of stressful events. These can include everything from the death of a family member, loss of a job, children moving out, or any of life's other constantly shifting events. These are distinct from grief events, although certain stressors, like the loss of a loved one, will overlap. In some people, such events trigger a depressed reaction that can persist much longer than would be expected for a relatively mild event, and can begin to interfere with a person's ability to function in their job or personal relationships. This, then, is the definition of reactive depression: a disproportionately depressed response to a life event.


As a type of major depression, reactive depression is characterized by feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and sadness. Additional symptoms might include anxiety, weight fluctuations and eating disorders, irritability, memory problems and difficulty concentrating. In extreme cases, it may be accompanied by somatic symptoms like pain, headaches, and digestive problems. Serious warning signs include drug and alcohol abuse, and suicidal thoughts or behaviors.


To diagnose reactive depression, a psychologist will have to examine the behavior in light of the surrounding life events. It is the relationship between the disease and the events that precipitated it that will help a therapist isolate the particular stressors. The diagnostic process should also include a section where the patient is evaluated for both inappropriate behavior and negative impact of the disease on everyday living.


As depression goes, the prognosis for reactive depression is quite good. Because the depressed mood stems from discrete stressor events (the very definition of reactive depression), the underlying psychosocial causes are relatively apparent. Psychotherapy can be used to address the patient's inappropriate reactions to these events, and sleep and stress management training can help further improve the person's recovery.

The hardest part of recovering from reactive depression is the powerlessness many depressed people will feel. The low level of energy they are experiencing may prevent them find seeking treatment on their own. If you suspect you may be experiencing severe reactive depression, it is important that you seek help. If you know someone else who may be experiencing a stronger than expected depressed reaction to a life event, it may be up to you to find help for them.


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