Getting To Know Your Relapse Signature

Medical Reviewer

A number of things can trigger depression but it isn't always clear whether you might be slipping into a depressive episode. The very early indications of mood change that could later develop into symptoms are called prodromes. Some of these are common and some are unique to the individual and can be thought of as your relapse signature.

The warning symptoms of depression may not be so easy to spot. Everyone is entitled to an off day or two and sometimes even after an episode of depression has lifted some residual symptoms can linger. Even so the earlier the symptoms of depression can be identified and dealt with the better.

Lesley Berk and colleagues* identify the most common prodromes of depression as:

  • losing interest or enjoyment in activities or people
  • persistent worry or anxiety
  • sleep disruption
  • feeling sad and tearful

They go on say that other prodromes might include an increase in fatigue and physical aches, social withdrawal, forgetfulness and reduced levels of activity.

You may already know some of your prodromes, or they may have been pointed out to you? Perhaps you've gone off listening to a favorite program, or you find doing something usually enjoyable just too much of an effort? Maybe the number of excuses you use to avoid activities has increased? Perhaps you are going to bed just that bit earlier or waking up with a head full of concerns or anxieties?

Your personal relapse signature may not be static, but the chances are, like a fingerprint, there will be some things unique to you. The main issue with prodromes is that they differ from the way you normally behave or feel. Because of this it's important not to confuse the odd bad day with the more consistent pattern of prodromes. With bad days you can pretty easily put your finger on the reasons why the day has been bad whereas with prodromes your feelings are likely to be either unrelated or possibly way out of proportion.

The timeline between early signs and symptoms slipping into clinical symptoms can sometimes vary so catching changes early is an important way to prevent or possibly reduce the severity of a depressive episode.


Berk, L., Berk, M., Castle, D., Lauder, S (2009) Living with Bipolar. Vermilion.