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One of the most important, yet most neglected, aspects of depression treatment is preventing depression from returning. Relapse refers to the returning signs of depression after a period of weeks or months of doing well. The term recurrence sometimes refers to a relapse that occurs late, after many months or years of stable mood and functioning.
Most research has been directed at the initial treatment for depression rather than on maintaining health once the depression has resolved. Similarly, most doctors and patients are focused so intently on the goal of recovering from depression that the idea of preventing a relapse is almost an afterthought. Nevertheless, the statistics speak for themselves. Anyone who has had one episode of major depression has at least a 50 percent chance of experiencing another episode at some point in his or her life. Anyone who has had two or more episodes of depression, periods of depression that have lasted for years, been hospitalized for depression, or not fully recovered from a current episode of depression, has an extremely high likelihood of relapse, even over the next 12 months. This means that for many people, depression is not simply an “episode,” but a long-term disorder—like high blood pressure or diabetes—that requires long-term management.
Stay in for the Long Haul
You need to go into treatment with the expectation that you may have periods of improvement and periods in which your symptoms get worse. It is essential that you discuss relapse prevention with your doctor or mental health professional.
Most importantly, don’t stop taking medication the minute you feel better. It can be tempting, especially if you are plagued by uncomfortable side effects, but it can trigger both discontinuation reactions from the drug as well as the return of your depression. If you want to stop therapy, talk to your doctor.
Some people need to stay on medication for life while others can remain well without medication, or with a lower dose. If you are one of those individuals who require medications not only to heal from depression but to stay healthy in the long term, it is important to recognize that medications are not a crutch or something you should feel ashamed of. Rather antidepressants are part of the long-term management of your illness along with other measures that may help keep you well, such as psychotherapy, healthy lifestyle habits, and a good support network.
If you are going to treat your signs of depression successfully and keep it under control for many years, your treatment must be part of an overall healthy lifestyle. There is no guarantee that depression won’t come back. Even when you are doing everything right, depression can relapse. But by doing all the right things, you are more likely to bring your depression under control so you can get back to your life sooner.
For more information on depression symptoms, diagnosis and treatment, purchase Overcoming Depression at www.UniversityHealthNews.com.