For some people an episode of depression represents a single and particularly bleak period of their life. For others it may be just one of several and perhaps worsening episodes. When clinicians refer to a depression relapse they are actually describing a worsening of symptoms following an incomplete recovery. Generally, a relapse is considered to have occurred if symptoms return within two months. A recurrence of depression, by contrast, follows a good period of recovery.
Relapse or recurrence of depression is significant for people who have experienced an episode of major depression. Therefore the key to managing a depression relapse is to stack the odds in your favor. Essentially this means actively taking steps to reduce your risk. How might this be done?
Psychological therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be useful. CBT will help you develop skills in identifying thought patterns and behaviors that are warning signs of depression. Thereafter CBT provides tools to help manage your depression.
The recovery phase following depression can be something of a false dawn. Recovery is rarely a steady gradient in which each day feels better than the previous one. Much more likely is a pattern of recovery followed by a slump and so on. If you have found antidepressant medication helpful it’s very important you don’t stop taking them because you are beginning to feel better.
Get to know your relapse signature. Think back to when your depression began. What changed in terms of your health, your mood, your sleep pattern, your diet and so on. Did some event have a big influence? I’m thinking here of work stress, relationship conflicts, and so on. The more you know your triggers the easier it becomes to manage your life around them.
Stay healthy. Eat a properly balanced diet. Stay away from alcohol and smoking. Exercise or stay active in some form as part of your daily routine. Try to use some technique to power down your thoughts. Yoga, relaxation and mindfulness are just three options to consider.
Be scientific. You are not a victim and as you have a brain it’s always worth putting it to use. If things aren’t working out it’s time to define the problem, consider solutions, set achievable goals, take action and then evaluate whether they are working for you. If not, redefine the issue, break it down if needed and start again.
Use resources. There’s a lot you can do but don’t feel guilty about asking for help. The more you harness support the better things will work out and the more likely it is that you will prevail.
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.