July 13, 2024

All About Reactive Depression

Reactive Depression – also known as adjustment disorder – is characterized by a depression that occurs after a psychological stressor brought on by a significant life event such as the death of a loved one.   Often, the symptoms of reactive depression overlap with the symptoms from other forms of depression which makes an exact diagnosis of this type of depression difficult.

When being diagnosed, if a patient does not meet the criteria for another type of depression or adjustment disorder and they have had a significant life event prior to the onset of their depression, then they will usually be classified as having reactive depression.

It may seem natural for people to respond to deaths, layoffs and other psychological stressors by becoming depressed.   If they are not able to leave this state of lethargy and sadness on their own, then treatment should be sought.   In general, people suffering from reactive depression stand a very good chance of becoming completely recovered with a treatment program.

What is Reactive Depression

People normally develop Reactive Depression after an event that occurs in their life.  This event can range from a loss of a love one or friend to a job loss.  They react to it with depression, sadness, inattention or irritability.  In normal circumstances, the symptoms will not last any longer than six months from the original occurrence.   Certain cases – like where the event is ongoing such as in a caregiving situation – can last for longer.  In the cases of chronic reactive depression, it is difficult for the patient to recover while the stressor is still present or the person is still in the midst of the stressful situation.

Since Reactive Depression Disorder is a reaction to a stressor, successful therapy should always take the stressor into account.  Resolving the issues or learning how to make concrete changes in the patient’s life can speed recovery and reduce symptoms.

Signs and Symptoms of Reactive Depression

Like many types of minor depression, Reactive Depression is characterized by an ongoing feeling of melancholy and irritableness.  The most common signs and symptoms a person with reactive depression might experience include:


  • A feeling of anger
  • Insomnia or a general state of sleeplessness
  • Difficulty falling asleep at night
  • Difficulties focusing and maintaining mental alertness
  • Lack of appetite or interest in food
  • Hopelessness
  • A lack of energy or enthusiasm
  • A sense of isolation from the people around them
  • A feeling of separation from others
  • Continued fatigue and tiredness
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Headaches
  • Frequent crying episodes
  • Headaches or stomachs
  • Dangerous or self-destructive behavior
  • Increased absences from work or school

In general, these symptoms only last for a short period of time relative to other types of depression unless the stressor is still ongoing.  The lack of energy and state of fatigue means that on some days, getting out bed is a trial for people with reactive depression.  The lack of an appetite and sleep can lead it to be even more difficult for sufferers to recover.

Usually reactive depression lasts for six months or less.

Causes and Risk Factors for Reactive Depression

Reactive Depression differs from other depression disorders.  With other forms of depression, the risk factors are often associated with genetics or lifestyle.  Reactive Disorder is always begun by some kind of life event that causes the patient to spiral into a deep depression.  Some of the life events that can initiate this form of depression are:


  • Disturbance in the patient’s family life or relationships
  • Loss of a family member or loved one
  • Financial problems or a loss
  • Suffering from a serious illness
  • Watching a loved one deal with an illness
  • Loss of a job
  • Being in the process of a divorce

Overall, people who do not handle change—especially negative changes—well will have a heightened risk of developing Reactive Depression.  Laypeople often call this disorder a ‘minor’ or ‘temporary’ depression.  For sufferers, the disorder hardly seems to be minor or temporary.  As they deal with life events, Reactive Depression can cause severe disruption in normal life and at work.

Treatment for Reactive Depression

Due to its basis in life events, patients dealing with Reactive Depression have very good odds of being treated.  Seeking professional help from a doctor or medical health care professional and making lifestyle changes can go a long way toward making the disorder go away.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is used by professionals to help change a patient’s perceptions.  The belief is that the event does not cause depression; rather, it is the patient’s reaction to it.  Proponents of cognitive behavioral therapies thinks that by untangled someone’s distorted view of the world, the old, negative views can replaced with positive ones.

Another treatment that is used most often is interpersonal therapy.  This short-term therapy helps patient’s to focus on their relationship problems.  By working through familial bickering, betrayals or a divorce, patients can receive therapy that actually addresses the underlying problem.  The goal of interpersonal therapy is to understand the issue and figure out ways to find a solution.  In the instance of troubles at work, a career or workplace change may be recommended.  This treatment is especially successful for Reactive Depression because it targets the catalyst instead of just trying to heal the symptoms.

In general, antidepressant medication is not used for people dealing with Reactive Depression.  The temporary status of Reactive Depression leads it to be better addressed by therapy.  Medication can carry a risk of side effects and a potential for chemical dependency.  Side effects from medical treatment can include: nausea, dizziness and fatigue.  On the very rare occasion that medicine is prescribed, professionals will usually suggest antidepressants Prozac or Zoloft.


Reactive Depression is a mild or moderate form of depression.  Primarily a result of psychological stress, patients can seek out cognitive or interpersonal therapy to treat their disorder.  As one of the many forms of depression, this disorder causes sensing for one of the shortest periods of time.  Once the original catalyst has been resolved, a patient can return to their normal life without the irritableness and melancholy they had become accustomed to.

After the loss of a loved one or a divorce, maintaining one’s interest in normal life can become a chore.  As patients sink deeper into their depression, they may be diagnosed with Reactive Depression.  Within six months of treatment, the average person with reactive depression will be cured and will no longer be depressed in the medical sense.


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