Depression after traumatic or violent events isn’t unusual. Post-trauma depression is also known as situational or reactive depression, meaning that the depression is triggered by an identifiable event. Depression after trauma may also be accompanied with an anxiety disorder called PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Causes of Depression and Trauma
What constitutes a traumatic event is subjective. EveryoneÃ•s definition of a traumatic event differs slightly, much as how everyone has unique reactions to stress. Generally speaking, violent events to oneself or others are considered traumatic, as are events that cause significant emotional upheaval.
Possible traumatic events that could lead to depression include:
- Assault, rape or other violent act
- Life-threatening illness/surgery
- Sexual or physical abuse
- Survival of car wrecks, fires or other sudden, unexpected events
- Survival of natural disasters
- Unexpected deaths
- Witnessing a violent act.
Firefighters, soldiers, police and other rescue workers are frequently exposed to traumatic events, and have high risk of depression and PTSD.
Symptoms of Post-Trauma Depression
People have many responses to traumatic events. Some of the more common emotional and physical responses include:
- Anxiety and nervousness
- Changes in appetite
- Changes in sleep pattern
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling guilt, shock, denial or self-blame
- Feeling numb or disconnected
- Increased alcohol consumption/drug abuse
- Mood changes
- Nightmares or persistent memories of the event
- Strained personal relationships
- Vague physical complaints
- Withdrawal from social interaction.
With the exception of substance abuse, these reactions are normal responses to trauma. These same responses may be symptoms of serious depression after trauma if they last longer than two weeks. Substance abuse and suicidal thoughts after trauma could indicate a severe depressive episode and should be taken very seriously.
Post-Trauma Depression or PTSD?
Post-trauma depression differs from post-traumatic stress disorder, although the two conditions often develop together. Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder. PTSD and depression after trauma share many features, but are separate disorders.
Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms may develop immediately after a traumatic event, but some people go months before symptoms of PTSD develop. Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder can include:
- Anger and irritability
- Avoiding places, people or circumstances that trigger memories of the event
- Being unable to recall aspects of the event
- Difficulty sleeping
- Emotional numbness
- Feeling detached from other people
- Flashback, nightmares or hallucinations related to the trauma
- Nervousness and jumpiness
- Sense of heightened awareness or impending doom
- Trying to not think about the event.
The relationship between depression and trauma is complicated, and distinguishing between depression after trauma, PSTD and combined PSTD/depression can be difficult. The two disorders require different treatment approaches, although some methods, such as therapy, can ease both depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. If you think you’re experiencing post-trauma depression or PTSD, talk to a doctor to get the treatment you need.
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance Staff. (2006). Coping with unexpected events: Depression and trauma. Retrieved May 4, 2010, from the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance website: www.dbsalliance.org/site/PageServer?pagename=about_publications_trauma.
Family Doctor Staff. (2006). Post-traumatic stress disorder. Retrieved May 4, 2010, from the Family Doctor website: familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/common/mentalhealth/anxiety/624.html.
Gregg, J. (2009). Depression and trauma. Retrieved May 4, 2010, from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs website: www.ptsd.va.gov/public/pages/depression-and-trauma.asp.
OÃ•Donnell, M., Creamer, M. and Pattison, P. (2004). Posttraumatic stress disorder and depression following trauma: Understanding comorbidity. Retrieved May 4, 2010, from the American Journal of Psychiatry Web site: ajp.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/abstract/161/8/1390.