Depression associated with role transitions occurs when a person has difficulty coping with life change. Almost everyone has multiple roles in the social system, and these roles become indelibly interwoven with the sense of self. The roles themselves, as well as the status attached to them, have an important influence on the individual's social behavior and patterns of interpersonal relationships. Impairment in social functioning frequently occurs in response to demands for rapid adaptation to new, strange roles, especially changes that are experienced by the individual as loss. Not all individuals undergoing role transitions experience the change as a loss. Those who are clinically depressed are more likely to experience role changes as loss. The loss may be immediately apparent, as in the case of divorce, or it may be more subtle, like the loss of leisure following the birth of a child. Retirement or some other change of social or professional role, especially one that brings diminished social status, is often another kind of subtle loss. Moving, changing jobs, leaving home, economic change, and changes in family roles due to illness, new responsibilities, or retirement are other examples of role transition.
The most frequently encountered role transitions occur with progression to another part of the human life cycle. Since these changes are expected as part of the timetable of biological growth and development or are dictated by social and cultural patterns, they are considered normative transitions. The transition to adolescence, childbirth, the end of childbearing potential, and the decline of physical capacity with aging are biologically normative.