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Can my depression come back?

Nearing the end of 2021, Jenelle was hopeful.

She had found a new job at the beginning of the year, despite so many businesses shutting their doors in her small city. She’d fallen in love. With regular exercise and a more nutritious diet, she felt physically healthier than she’d ever been.

And yet when the holidays hit, Jenelle says, “I felt like I got hit by a truck.”

Jenelle, now 40, had been diagnosed with depression after college. “I went through about two years of therapy before I felt like I was recovered,” she says. 15 years later, though, symptoms Jenelle recognized started to reappear.

Experts say that anyone who has experienced depression once may very well experience a relapse or recurrence, typically within five years. However, relapse can happen years after the first episode. Half of everyone who’s ever experienced depression may see a return of it once or more throughout their lives.

The symptoms of a relapse are usually the same, and a relapse is diagnosed the same way as an initial episode. When a person feels sadness or a loss of interest in day-to-day activities every day for over two weeks or more, and when these negative feelings begin to affect one’s personal and professional life, they may be considered in relapse.

What’s the difference between relapse and a recurrence? A depression relapse happens with the return of symptoms during recovery from an episode, usually within two months of stopping treatment. A recurrence, on the other hand, is when symptoms return after months or years of having recovered from a previous episode. Most people who report a recurrence say it happens with six months.

If there have been two or three earlier episodes, the chances of depression returning rises significantly.

In Jenelle’s case, the warning signs included feeling depressed and anxious; she also withdrew from her family and friends, and felt frequently tired. But other symptoms and warning signs are possible too, and they include:

  • Loss of interest in activities the person usually enjoys
  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Excessive sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Memory problems
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Stomach issues
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Appetite changes, as well as weight gain or weight loss
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Suicide attempts

When people have a history of depression, certain triggers can cause a depressive episode. It could be that stressful and unexpected life events suddenly occur, or it could be that recovery from the last episode of depression was incomplete or was stopped early. Other medical conditions can even trigger a depression relapse or recurrence, like obesity, diabetes or heart disease.

If you’re in relapse, hope is not lost – you can seek treatment for a relapse, just as you can for a first episode.

If you’re concerned about relapse or recurrence, there are prevention strategies to help stop depression from coming back. They include keeping up with treatment, staying mindful of negative thoughts and dealing with them in a healthy way, and preparing for the possibility of a relapse so you’re ready to act upon it quickly if it does arise.

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