Situational depression and clinical depression can look a lot alike, especially now. So what’s the difference?

It’s Tuesday. Or maybe it’s Wednesday. You’re really not sure anymore. You haven’t seen anyone but your cat in 3 weeks. You’re longing to go to the grocery store, and you’re finding yourself pretty low.

You might ask yourself, Am I depressed? Should I see someone?

Well, that’s a pretty good question. Now, as a therapist, I will definitely admit my bias is, “Yes! Totally! Whenever!” But insurance companies and capitalism are always there to make things more complex.

This article will unpack the difference between the COVID-19 blues (situational depression) and clinical depression, exacerbated by these unique circumstances.

Whether situational or more persistent, this isn’t to say that one kind of depression is more important than the other.

No matter what, not feeling like yourself is a great reason to seek out therapy! More than anything, this is meant to help you navigate and name what’s happening with you.

Let’s start with a couple of symptoms or factors that might indicate this is more than a situational occurrence.

If your depression predates COVID-19 and is getting worse now, then definitely talk to someone if you can.

Isolation is rough on the mind, and humans aren’t very good at it. This sort of scenario could make something you’re already struggling with that much tougher.

If these symptoms are new and emerged alongside lockdown, however, this points to something being more situational.

Anhedonia is a fancy word for not liking anything.

You might be bored during lockdown, but this symptom is more about finding nothing interesting or engaging, even things you usually love.

This can extend from difficulties with finding something you want to eat to finding even your favorite video games utterly dull.

While this can be a normal thing when you’re home too much, it can also stretch out and become pretty distressing. If you’re finding this lasts more than a day or two, it’s a good time to check in with someone.

There’s going to be a certain amount of difficulty with sleep that’s normal during an anxiety-inducing time like this.

When you want to talk to someone is when you’re either sleeping far more than you used to and not feeling rested, or having intense difficulties with getting enough sleep.

Depression can mess with your ability to get a good night’s rest, which can lead to feeling constantly exhausted.

Sleep deprivation or disturbance over time can be really difficult to deal with and sap your energy for other things. It might also be some underlying anxiety, which can sometimes be eased with talk therapy.

Now this might seem like a no-brainer, but some folks live with pretty regular suicidal thoughts and have for some time, to the point where they can appear quite innocuous.

However, isolation can enhance the difficulty of coping with them and swamp those who have robust coping mechanisms and capacity for dealing with these thoughts.

If you’re having more difficulty than usual, or if you’re having suicidal thoughts for the first time, that’s a definite sign to reach out and check with an experienced therapist.

Isolation is a huge complicating factor for thoughts like these, so lockdown might make them ever more difficult.

The bottom line, though? There’s a thousand perfectly legitimate reasons to chat with a therapist, and you know yourself and your situation best.

This isn’t an ordinary situation — and humans aren’t especially great at coping with long-term, stressful, isolating situations, especially ones we can’t do much about.

If you can’t afford therapy, there are a number of low-cost support services online, as well as hotlines and warm lines that are there to help.

Many therapists are also doing sliding scale and discounted services at this time, especially if you’re an essential worker.

This pandemic isn’t going to last forever, but it can definitely feel that way some days. I know I’ve struggled more than usual since this all started, even though I’ve had years of working on my coping mechanisms and tons of therapy.

There’s no shame in needing someone right now. We all need each other, and that’s always been true, at least to some extent.

Whether it’s situational or something more persistent, you deserve support right now. So, if that’s within reach, there’s no good reason not to take advantage of those resources.


Shivani Seth is a queer, second-generation Punjabi American freelance writer from the Midwest. She has a background in theater as well as a master’s in social work. She writes frequently on the topics of mental health, burnout, community care, and racism in a variety of contexts. You can find more of her work at shivaniswriting.com or on Twitter.