Overcoming depression is a gradual process, and in most cases, you’re able to get back to a healthy headspace. But life after depression isn’t without its challenges. After you’ve experienced a depressive episode, life’s not as it was before.
And because you’ve experienced this mental illness, you’re more at risk for relapsing later on in life. While this may sound discouraging and plays right into the thought patterns that depression perpetuates so well, there are practices you can implement in your life to prevent relapse.
Ultimately, you want to maintain your mental health, and that means accepting that while you have had depression, you aren’t defined by depression.
The Road to Recovery
It’s important to recognize depression for what it is: an illness. It’s a mental illness that lies to you through your thoughts. Accepting that you cannot trust all of your thoughts because they are not an accurate representation of reality is a hard thing to do.
But it’s absolutely necessary.
Reconnecting with reality and regaining your mental health means teaching yourself how to recognize which of your thoughts are true and which aren’t. This is no easy feat, but it’s an important practice. Prioritizing this practice just a little each day will improve this discernment.
Removing Toxic People
Coming back to reality can also mean making painful decisions about who you keep in your life. If you’ve experienced a depressive episode and there’s a toxic person in your life, this puts you at a higher risk of feeling the symptoms again.
It’s crucial to identify who, if anyone, makes your symptoms worse and to separate from this person. This can end up being one of the hardest choices you’ll ever make, but the well-being of your mind is not worth keeping a toxic individual around.
Taking Care of Your Body
Your mind and your body are inextricably connected. So ultimately, caring for your mental health means also caring for your physical health. An unhealthy body just cannot sustain a healthy mind.
So don’t dump that exercise routine after you’ve overcome depression. Don’t start eating loads of junk food after you’ve begun to feel better. What you put in your body today will affect your health tomorrow.
Don’t be afraid to try different workouts or diets to find what works best for you and your health. Recovering from depression is a process, and most of that process is trial and error. There is no right way to recover. As long as you’re on a path to be healthier, you’re doing it right.
Mindfulness is a practice you should carry with you for the rest of your life, regardless of if you ever experience a depressive episode again. This is an exercise for everybody.
Mindfulness meditation and mindfulness in daily activities help people to witness their thoughts rather than to be wholly absorbed by them. This practice teaches you to give less power to your thoughts, and instead to watch them come and go just as bodily sensations do.
Remember– those negative thought patterns are what give depression its power. If you can detach yourself from these thoughts, depression is far less likely to return.
The real catch-22 of depression is the fact that relief is found in reaching out for support, yet the cyclical negative thoughts and social isolation can make that feel impossible.
Research has shown that “formerly depressed adults who had emotionally supportive and close relationships were four times more likely to report complete mental health than those without such relationships. Having at least one trusted friend was critical to cultivating complete mental health” (Mercedes Bern-Klug, Associate Professor, University of Iowa).
The genuine relief and healing lie in social connection. Even after your depressive episode is over, it’s crucial to maintain at least one good relationship with somebody. Your mental health is largely dependent on the human connections in your life.
Risk of Relapse
As mentioned, those who have experienced depression previously are more prone to experiencing it again. The risk of relapse is highest during the first six months of recovery.
For some people, depression can potentially be a long-term or even a lifelong illness.
Though some people very well may experience recurring depression throughout their lives, this does not mean they will never be happy. In due course of treatment, there is hope for even people with lifelong depression to manage their illness and live happy lives.
Continuation Treatment vs. Maintenance Treatment
There is a treatment for individuals who are coming off of a depressive episode, and for people who have experienced depression in the past and continue to deal with depressive episodes.
Continuation treatment is a combination of therapy and prescription medicine that is administered to an individual for up to six months after a depressive episode. This type of treatment is important to consider if you’ve experienced a single major depressive episode.
Maintenance treatment, on the other hand, is only provided to certain individuals who have shown signs of recurring depressive symptoms. Only people who have experienced two or three major depressive episodes in their lives are considered candidates for maintenance treatment.
This treatment is long term and used to prevent relapse into depression. It typically includes psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy, with medication doses remaining the same throughout. There are hope and relief for even those with lifelong depression.
If you feel that your depression is lasting for a long time, or that it keeps recurring, it may be time to consult a doctor about your treatment options.
The healing from depression is gradual and can only be achieved through deliberate, everyday practice. While it may seem disconcerting that there’s a possibility of lifelong depression, you should not worry. Many people have experienced lifelong depression before, and because of this, doctors have been able to gather valuable information on how to best treat longer lasting depression.
There is always hope. If you are in need of help with recurring depression, reach out for help. The Lighthouse Health Group in Jupiter, Florida is here to help you and answer any questions you need.