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By Amy Smith
After experiencing depression once, it can be worrying to feel the symptoms creeping in again. But how common is depression relapse and what are the warning signs? Noticing the red flags early is often the key to preventing a full-blown episode from developing.
Depression is a mental health disorder with a high rate of relapse. About half of the people who experience an episode of depression for the first time will remain well. For the other half, depression can return one or more times throughout their lives.
For those people who do experience repeat episodes of depression, the warning signs may be different each time.
In this article, we list key signals of a depression relapse, its possible triggers, and ways people can prevent, treat, and cope with this condition.
Contents of this article:
- What is a depression relapse?
- 12 early signs of a depression relapse
- Possible relapse triggers
- Tips for preventing a relapse
- Treating and coping with a relapse
- Depression can come back weeks, months, or even years after a first episode.
- Depressive episodes may return in over 50 percent of people diagnosed with depression.
- Depression is most likely to return within 3 years after a first episode.
- Researchers are still figuring out why some people relapse, but others do not.
What is a depression relapse?
Sadness or a loss of interest in everyday activities can be a perfectly normal part of life. But if these feelings continue almost daily for more than 2 weeks, and if they begin to affect work or social life, then this may be depression.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), depression affects around 7 percent of adults in the United States every year.
After the first episode of depression, the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) practice guidelines say that depression can return in two ways.
“Depression relapse” happens when a person slides back into depression during recovery from an earlier episode. Relapse is most likely to occur within 2 months of stopping treatment for a previous episode.
“Depression recurrence” happens when symptoms return months or years after a person has recovered from the last episode. This is most common within the first 6 months. Around 20 percent of people will experience a recurrence, but this can rise when depression is very severe.
After a person’s first episode of depression has ended, the APA estimate that between 50 and 85 percent of people will have at least one more episode of depression in their lifetimes. After two or three earlier episodes, the chances of depression returning are much higher.
Some depression-like disorders will frequently return and are usually identifiable by their name. These conditions include seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which comes back during winter months, and premenstrual dysphoric syndrome (PDS), which is a severe form of premenstrual syndrome.
12 early signs of a depression relapse
A person can often recognize the same warning signs of depression from their previous episodes. The symptoms of a new episode can also be different, however, so it pays to look out for all possible warning signs each time.
Here are some key warning signs of depression:
- Depressed mood: Feeling sad, empty, or hopeless.
- Loss of interest in things usually enjoyed: Taking less pleasure from hobbies, reduced interest in sex.
- Social withdrawal: Avoiding social situations, losing touch with friends.
- Fatigue: Daily tasks may feel more difficult and take longer, such as washing up and dressing in the morning.
- Feeling agitated: Restlessness, pacing.
- Changes in sleep patterns: Insomnia or excessive sleeping.
- Changes in appetite: Loss of appetite or an increased appetite.
- Increased irritability: Getting annoyed more easily than usual.
- Feelings of worthlessness and guilt: Thinking over past events.
- Concentration and memory problems: Thoughts and speech may feel slower.
- Physical aches and pains: Unexplained headaches, stomach aches, or muscle pain.
- Suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts: This may signal a severe depressive episode.