What is Reactive Depression?


By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Depressed person

Depression.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Do you have Reactive Depression?

Reactive depression is one of those terms, like Manic-Depressive Disorder, that still gets used even though we have come up with new, presumably more precise names. The underlying assumption, which is often hiding here, is that if we could find ways to categorize the various mental, emotional and behavioral problems, we should be able to find precise treatments, medication, or therapy for your specific ailment. If only it was that simple.

The Reactive Depression terms meaning has changed over time. Most recently it was in use to describe times when a person became depressed as a result of a specific stressor. Say you lose your job, that loss might make you sad. A small amount of sadness for a while is normal. Staying a lot sad for a long time is excessive and so you are sort of depressed. In this view reactive depression is depression caused by your specific reaction to an identifiable event. That event might be a one-time thing or it might be repeated exposure to the same sorts of events. Some people have called this Situational Depression.

This is not the same thing as Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD.) A person with PTSD may or may not have depression but Depression is not part of the definition of PTSD. People with PTSD can’t get the thoughts of the event out of their heads. It is as if they are continually re-experiencing the trauma. Anything that reminds them of the trauma is upsetting and they will try to avoid things that trigger those reminders. PTSD usually disturbs sleep. Other symptoms include disturbing dreams, nightmares, trouble falling asleep and more trouble staying asleep. PTSD is an ANXIETY disorder as opposed to an Anxiety disorder. It also includes a lot of stress and trauma-related features.

There is another idea, similar to reactive depression, currently called Minor Depressive Disorder which is currently listed as a disorder listed for further study. While Reactive Depression is in response to something that happened to you, Minor Depressive Disorder is a sad or depressed period with some symptoms but it is just not as deep or severe a depression as a Major Depressive Disorder. So far neither of these ideas is an accepted diagnosis under the current text, the DSM-4-TR. Some of these ideas will change when the DSM-5 comes out but that is very controversial at this time.

There is another name and criteria set that we are currently using to cover both of these issues. We call this disorder or group of six disorders – Adjustment Disorders. There are good reasons why people might suffer from adjustment disorders and need treatment but still not have all the symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder or Bipolar Disorder.

In my experience, Adjustment Disorders result in more people in crisis than most of the other disorders. By definition, Adjustment Disorders should be time-limited. If it goes on too long after the event or if the symptoms continue to be severe or worsen, then the diagnosis will get increased to Major Depressive Disorder.

That does not mean that a Reactive Depression or Adjustment Disorder is not dangerous. People, who find out their partner is leaving them or has cheated or those who lose a job or house they love, can and sometimes do get violent towards themselves and others.

So let’s return to the person who just lost their job, or spouse or has a sick family member. Might that make them sad? Might they be scared and anxious? Hey, what if they got both depressed and anxious?

This is why we have diagnoses of Adjustment Disorder with Depressed Mood, with Anxiety, and with Anxiety and Depressed Mood. What else might happen?

Could a person who lost their spouse start drinking and get arrested?  Maybe a teen that fails a class or gets in trouble might run away from home or get mad and break windows? So one reaction to a problem, one adjustment difficulty, could be to behave in ways that make society disapprove of you. We would call that Adjustment Disorder with Disturbance of Conduct.

Think about this for a moment. That teen, might he be depressed, anxious, and act badly? What about his unemployed father who gets scared he won’t find another job, starts drinking, and gets into a fight. We call these sets of behavior Adjustment Disorder with Disturbance of Emotions and Conduct. Lots of names for the ways in which adjusting to a problem could affect someone.

If you have been counting that is only five diagnoses and I promised you six.

We always need a loophole. We call that Adjustment Disorder Unspecified when we can’t figure out which other one it is.

Regardless of the name the preferred treatment for these issues in counseling. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or solution-focused counseling is recommended. The main direction of this kind of therapy is on problem-solving and changing the ways in which you think about your problems.

So whether you call it Reactive Depression, Minor Depression, or an Adjustment Disorder, the way we react to life’s stresses can result in crises that require and often bring people to counseling.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

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Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

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2 thoughts on “What is Reactive Depression?

  1. Pingback: Does an adjustment disorder produce depression & mania? | counselorssoapbox

  2. Pingback: Treatments for Depression and Dysthymia | counselorssoapbox

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