While treatable with medication and psychotherapy, depression is still a chronic illness. That means that most people who experience a depressive episode will eventually have a relapse of the disease, even if they have successfully been treated in the past. If you’ve had just one depressive episode, you have about a 50 percent chance of having another. If you’ve had two depressive episodes, that risk goes up to 70 percent. But if you’ve had three or more depressive episodes, you have a 90 percent chance of experiencing another relapse.
Fortunately, you’re not powerless against depression relapse. You can protect yourself from depression relapse by taking good care of yourself and practicing healthy coping skills. You may even continue to take antidepressant medications after your depression is in remission. Be alert to the signs of relapse, and don’t hesitate to go back into full treatment mode if depression returns.
Know Your Depression Triggers
For most people, there are specific circumstances and events that can trigger depression relapse. Some common triggers can include:
- Sleep deprivation
- Grief following a death or other loss
- Family conflict
- A stressful or disappointing event, like job loss
- Substance abuse
- Seasonal or hormonal changes
- Health problems
- Dwelling on your shortcomings or personal failures
An obvious but nevertheless surprisingly common trigger for depression relapse is simply not sticking to your treatment or maintenance plan. Maybe you’ve had to take antibiotics before — you probably started to feel better long before you ran out of pills, but your doctor insisted you take the whole course to prevent a recurrence of the infection. Depression is kind of like that. And just like many people stop taking antibiotics before they’ve finished the course because they feel better, many people with depression stop taking their medication and stop going to therapy because they think they’re cured.
Just like the bacterial infection in this example, depression can come back if you don’t finish out your course of treatment. If you’ve had multiple episodes of depression, you’ll need maintenance treatment, which usually consists of a small daily dose of antidepressants and possibly ongoing therapy. You might feel better, but that doesn’t mean you can stop maintenance treatment — you need it to keep depression from coming back.
Practice Healthy Coping Skills
If you’ve already been through one or more rounds of depression treatment, then you should already have some pretty good coping skills. Of course, they won’t help you at all if you don’t use them. Make sure you:
- Exercise regularly.
Find one or more physical activities you enjoy, that way you’ll be more likely to get off the couch and get moving.
- Eat a healthy diet.
Eating poorly can contribute to feelings of physical malaise and fatigue, which can contribute to depression relapse.
- Get plenty of sleep.
If you’re having problems sleeping, talk to your doctor. Evidence suggests that insomnia may contribute to depression.
- Manage stress.
Stress can quickly make you feel overwhelmed and trigger the beginning of a new depressive episode. Make time each day to relax, whether through a pleasant activity you enjoy, or through meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises.
Depression relapse is often the result of making unhealthy choices in day-to-day life. The more you can make healthy choices, the better you’ll feel in body and mind.
Avoid Distorted Thinking
Depression has a nasty way of twisting your thoughts and beliefs, giving you a distorted negative outlook. You may not even realize that your perspective is unrealistic. Cognitive behavioral therapy can teach you to think more realistically, and give you the skills you need to identify and change distorted thinking patterns if they crop up again.
If you notice yourself falling into an unhealthy thinking pattern, nip it in the bud. Some unhealthy thought patterns common to depression include:
If you find yourself reacting to a small mishap or mistake like it’s a catastrophe, you’re catastrophizing.
When you react to a bad experience by telling yourself that an entire group, situation, or place is bad, you’re making an overgeneralization.
- All-or-nothing thinking.
When you find yourself thinking that something is either all good or all bad, you’re engaging in all-or-nothing thinking.
When you hear or see only the bad parts of something and none of the good parts, you’re filtering.
By challenging these unhealthy thought patterns in yourself, you can protect yourself from falling into a negative feedback loop of unrealistic thoughts.
Get Treatment If You Need It
If you begin to notice a reappearance of depression symptoms, tell your doctor right away so you can get treatment. If you’re already on antidepressants for maintenance treatment, your doctor may increase your dose, change your medication or add an additional medication, like Abilify, to your daily regimen. It’s important that you take your medications as directed; if you’re having trouble affording them, order them from a Canadian online pharmacy.
You may also need to return to therapy to address your depression relapse. A support group may be beneficial. If you’ve had severe depression or frequent relapses, you may want to consider a treatment like electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), which uses electrical currents to stimulate your brain while you’re under general anesthesia. ECT is very effective for treating severe and treatment-resistant depression, though doctors aren’t yet sure why.
If you’ve had depression in the past, you’re at risk for a relapse, even if you were treated successfully. That’s why it’s so important to stay on guard against the appearance of depression symptoms. You’ve worked hard to overcome depression — don’t let it return to steal your joy.