Overview of Relapse of Depression
Everyone feels sad or depressed at some point in your life. Depression is a normal reaction to the struggles in our life. However, generally, these feelings of sadness disappear after some time. But when these feelings of intense sadness, including feeling hopeless and helpless, start to persist for many days and then into weeks, it starts to disrupt your life. This could be an indication that you are suffering from clinical depression, which is a treatable medical condition.
Depression can strike a person more than once in their lifetime. For many people, depression can even become a lifelong and chronic illness, having several recurrences or relapses. It has been observed that most people who have depression end up experiencing three to four relapses during their life.
A relapse is an episode of depression when your symptoms recur after being depression-free for at least four months. These relapses can be frequent in many people, and a study by the University of Minnesota found that nearly 50 percent of all people who were treated for depression will end up having at least one or more episode of depression during their lifetime.(1)
Symptoms of Relapse of Depression – How Does It Feel?
Symptoms that indicate you are having a relapse of depression can be different from the symptoms you experienced during your first episode of depression. Due to this, you need to be careful and watch out for all the symptoms so that you can begin treatment at the earliest.
Some of the symptoms of a relapse may include:
Loss of Interest In Daily Activities: This is usually one of the first and earliest signs of depression. This symptom presents itself in a lack of a total loss in your regular hobbies and previous interests.
Irritability: You will find yourself getting angry more quickly and snapping at loved ones or friends. These can all be signs of having a relapse of depression.
Difficulty Concentrating: Difficulty concentrating or brain fog is another common symptom that indicates a relapse of depression. Many people find that they are struggling to think through the brain haze that is caused by depression. You could experience difficulty in making decisions or experience a slowdown in your thinking process.
Loss of Attraction To Your Partner: While this can be due to several other factors as well, but sometimes depression does cause a relationship to fizzle out. This is particularly true if you were otherwise in a happy relationship. You might also lose interest in sex.
Changes in Your Sleeping Pattern: Another symptom that can be spotted early on if you have a depression relapse is having difficulty in sleeping soundly or falling asleep. This occurs due to a tendency to fixate of whatever has happened during the day or what all things you are unhappy about. All these factors keep you from having a sound sleep, or no sleep at all. At the same time, some people might experience another symptom of depression – sleeping all the time or much more than usual.
Feeling Unworthy Or Worthless: Depression hits your self-esteem hard. This manifests itself into feeling unworthy or worthless of deserving anything good in life. This feeling can be difficult to get out of and can eventually turn into self-loathing. If you feel like this type of feeling comes on out of nowhere or is starting to become prevalent, then you should be on the watch out for other symptoms of depression relapse.(2)
Social Withdrawal: You may find yourself avoiding social situations, or feeling isolated or detached even while attending them. This can have a negative impact on your relationships, making the symptoms of depression worse.
Feeling Teary, Down, Or Hopeless For An Extended Period Of Time: Everyone has a bad day now and then. But having these feelings without any obvious cause and having them last for more than 15 days, could point to the fact that your depression is making a comeback.
Fatigue: One of the biggest signs of depression relapse that most people with depression experience is fatigue. This is definitely a symptom you have to watch out for. You are likely to feel so exhausted that even doing day to day activities will be an impossible thing.
Changes in Weight: Depression can also cause you to lose interest in food, which causes a weight loss. Conversely, some people lose interest in living healthy and exercising, leading to weight gain instead. If you notice that you are suddenly losing or gaining weight, then you should think about what could be the underlying reason behind it. Significant weight changes need to be checked by a doctor.
Triggers for a Possible Relapse of Depression
There are certain triggers that are more likely to lead to a relapse of depression in those who have a history of depression as compared to those who have never experienced depression before. Some of the common triggers for depression relapse include:
- Incomplete recovery from the previous episode of depression. If the primary symptoms are not treated fully, then depression is likely to come back.
- Stressful events in your life that happen after or during your recovery. These can include loss of a loved one, family conflict, grief, and changes in relationships.
- Medical conditions such as obesity, diabetes, heart diseases, etc. that can lead to a higher chance of having a depression again in the future.
Stopping treatment early. If you do not complete the full course of treatment, then there is a higher risk of having another episode of depression in the near future. Stick with the treatment plan for at least six or more month and after feeling completely better, and with your doctor’s permission, only then stop your treatment to reduce the risk of a relapse.
Tips to Prevent Depression Relapse
Certain prevention strategies can help prevent a relapse from happening. These include:
Following Your Treatment: Completing the full course of your prescribed medications is necessary to reduce the risk of a relapse. This is of particular importance because the first six months of treatment need to be followed strictly to ensure that your treatment works and there is no chance of a relapse happening.
Mindfulness-Based Therapies: Mindfulness can help you become aware of any negative thought patterns and helps you find a way to develop strategies for dealing with them. Practicing mindfulness at least three to four times in a week will lower the chances of having a depression relapse by nearly 50 percent within one year.
Be Prepared for a Relapse: Even if you are not experiencing any symptoms of a relapse, it still helps to have a plan ready so that in case if you witness any warning signs, then you can act upon them at the earliest. Take a doctor’s help if you require.
Depression is not a personal flaw but an illness. And it is very much treatable. Nearly 80 to 90 percent of all patients will respond well to the prescribed course of treatment.(3)
The risk of a relapse of depression is much higher when your first episode was more severe, or when you also had other medical conditions such as personality disorder, anxiety disorder, or substance abuse. The good news is that people who have depression can successfully improve their long term outlook by taking the proper steps to treat or prevent each new episode of depression that may arise.
- Burcusa, S.L. and Iacono, W.G., 2007. Risk for recurrence in depression. Clinical psychology review, 27(8), pp.959-985.
- Abramson, L.Y., Metalsky, G.I. and Alloy, L.B., 1989. Hopelessness depression: A theory-based subtype of depression. Psychological review, 96(2), p.358.
- Psychiatry.org. (2019). What Is Depression?. [online] Available at: https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression/what-is-depression [Accessed 17 Jun. 2019].
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