While these types of depression are similar, they may have different causes and require different treatments.

Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions, affecting tens of millions of people worldwide. In 2020 alone, roughly 8.4% of adults in the United States reported experiencing at least one major depressive episode, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

Situational depression and clinical depression are two types of depression with similar symptoms. However, despite the similarities, there are a handful of differences between situational and clinical depression ― including the diagnostic criteria, the severity of symptoms, and more.

Below, we’ll explore some major differences between situational depression and clinical depression, including the treatment options and outlook for both.

Situational depression and clinical depression are both types of depression, but they have some differences. Here’s what you need to know about what both conditions can look like.

Situational depression

We all experience stressful events from time to time, but for some people, stressful or traumatic events can lead to a condition called situational depression.

Situational depression is a type of adjustment disorder ― a mental health condition that develops when someone has trouble adjusting to a stressful life event. Because people with this type of adjustment disorder experience depressive symptoms, it’s known as “adjustment disorder with depressed mood.”

Some life events that can lead to situational depression include:

  • experiencing major life changes
  • moving to a new location
  • losing a job or starting a new one
  • going through a breakup or divorce
  • being diagnosed with a health condition
  • losing a family member or friend
  • having frequent conflicts with family
  • experiencing conflict at work or school

Clinical depression

While situational depression arises from a specific trigger or event, clinical depression is a more severe, chronic form of depression.

Clinical depression is also known as major depressive disorder (MDD), and it’s one of the leading causes of disability worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). People with clinical depression experience debilitating symptoms that can significantly affect every area of their lives.

Some of the risk factors for developing clinical depression include:

  • personal history of depression
  • close family members with depression
  • underlying health conditions
  • hormonal imbalances
  • certain medications
  • major life changes or trauma
  • childhood trauma

Clinical depression also has slightly different diagnostic criteria than situational depression.

For example, a diagnosis of clinical depression requires either a persistent depressed mood or loss of interest and pleasure in activities, along with other cognitive and physical changes. Symptoms must be present more often than not for at least 2 weeks and can’t be due to other underlying conditions, like substance use or other mental health conditions.

Can situational depression lead to clinical depression?

Some people who develop situational depression may only experience this condition once, and treatment may be enough to prevent it from coming back. But for others, situational depression can become chronic and develop into clinical depression, especially if left untreated.

Ultimately, there’s no way to know whether someone’s situational depression will turn into clinical depression ― so it’s important to reach out for help if you notice any symptoms of depression in yourself or a loved one.

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According to the diagnostic criteria for situational depression, the depressive symptoms may be “out of proportion” to the stressor, cause significant impairment in everyday life, or both. The symptoms also can’t be explained by another underlying mental health condition.

The symptoms of situational depression are similar to those of clinical and other types of depression, but the distinction between situational depression and other types is usually the length of time and severity of symptoms.

Common symptoms include:

Situational depression is usually short-term and tends to improve within 6 months with treatment. In people with mild cases, the symptoms may even resolve on their own without needing treatment.

Unlike situational depression, episodes of clinical depression generally last longer than just a few months, and the symptoms can be quite severe. It’s a chronic, persistent mental health condition that often requires treatment to manage the symptoms long-term.

You’re not alone

If you live with severe depression symptoms, whether situational or clinical, you don’t have to go through it alone. In the United States, you can reach someone 24/7 by calling 988. You can also chat with someone online. They can help you find local resources or begin the search for mental health care.

You can also use Healthline’s FindCare Tool to help find mental health professionals near you.

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Treatment for both situational depression and clinical depression is fairly similar and involves several approaches, including therapy, medications, and lifestyle changes.


Therapy is an effective treatment approach for various mental health conditions, including almost all types of depression.

Whether you have situational depression or clinical depression, the goal of therapy is to learn skills that can improve your functioning and quality of life. Therapy also provides a safe space for you to discuss your thoughts and emotions so you can handle them in a healthier, more productive way.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often considered the gold-standard therapy approach for depression. But, other types of therapy, like interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) and mindfulness techniques, can also be effective in treating depression.


While therapy can be an effective treatment option for depression, some people also benefit from medication to help manage symptoms.

Several types of medication can be helpful for either situational or clinical depression, including:

Most of these medications work by increasing the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, which can help reduce some of the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Lifestyle changes

Making lifestyle changes can also help support you through treatment and even lead to positive benefits in the long term.

For example, regular exercise is known to be hugely beneficial for people living with conditions like depression and anxiety. And small changes like filling your plate with more nutrient-rich foods or improving your sleep hygiene to get more rest at night can help support your body and mind.

What does it mean to be clinically depressed?

Part of being human is experiencing a wide range of thoughts, feelings, and emotions ― including feeling down, sad, or even hopeless from time to time. Generally, these feelings are transient, meaning that they don’t stick around for very long.

But people who are clinically depressed experience these emotions more chronically and persistently. These feelings have a significant effect on their quality of life and often make it difficult for them to function from day to day.

If you or someone you love has been experiencing persistent symptoms of depression, consider reaching out for professional help. With the right treatment, you can learn how to manage your symptoms and start feeling better.

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Clinical depression and situational depression are two distinct mental health conditions that exist within the spectrum of depressive disorders. Both types of depression cause similar symptoms, but ultimately have different diagnostic criteria and may even benefit from different treatments.

If you’re living with the symptoms of depression, you’re not alone ― there is help available. Whether that looks like having a discussion with a loved one about how you’re feeling, or booking a therapy appointment with a mental health professional, you deserve to get the treatment you need to feel like yourself again.