Depression is so all-consuming and bleak that even the thought of it returning is distressing. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, if you’ve had an episode of depression, you have a roughly 50/50 chance of having another one. This is echoed by the American Psychiatric Association, which notes that depression may reoccur soon after an initial episode, or may not reappear for several years.
Fifty percent sounds grim. It’s the same odds as the flick of a coin. But depression doesn’t quite work this way, and there are things we can do to shift the odds in our favor.
There is no consensus on how to know who will have another episode of depression. The odds are somewhat less in your favor if you have a family history of depression, but even then, if you are able to identify early warning signs, it’s quite possible to turn things around.
It’s important to remember that moods change. We all have good and bad days and the fact that you may be having some bad days shouldn’t be misinterpreted as depression returning. I mention this because some people are so concerned about the possibility that they’ll do anything to avoid it. This only results in more worry and anxiety, as they view any minor mood slip as potential signs of relapse.
While it’s true that a severe traumatic event can provoke fairly rapid signs of depression, in most cases this is unlikely. Early warning signs are more likely to be (1) your low moods stick around more days than not and (2) you notice that you’re getting back to the ways of thinking and behaving you had during your first episode of depression. This could be mild irritability, sadness, or feeling more day-dreamy and disconnected.
You may already be undertaking a healthy lifestyle program as a means of prevention. If not, you should immediately consider gearing up your healthy activity levels. These include increasing your physical activity, eating and sleeping well, and practicing relaxation.
You also should identify stressful situations and try to find ways of navigating these. We can’t avoid stress in our lives, but it’s important not to react by drinking alcohol, using drugs, or smoking. Here is a stress management process you can follow:
- Define the problem(s)
- Set realistic goals that will help resolve part or all of these problems
- Involve trusted friends or relations
- Weigh up the benefits and limitations of possible actions
- Monitor the effects and adapt as you move forward
Bring balance back
If you’ve been free from depression, it is worth considering what has changed. Our lifestyles fluctuate for all sorts of reasons, but if we tip too far away from our own needs, it leads to problems. The first victims of pressures are nearly always the things we enjoy: It becomes all too easy to cancel meeting a friend, stop pursuing a hobby, or even avoid going to a support group, yet this is exactly when such things become more important.
Seek help from others
Shouldering burdens is never easy. If you feel your mood slipping between your fingers, then see your doctor or other support worker, sooner rather than later. Using outside help shows personal control: You are taking action over depression rather than allowing it to consume you.
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Dr. Jerry Kennard 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.