What is Depression Relapse? 3 Major Signs

Depression has regularly impacted millions of Americans each year. As of late, however, depression is occurring more frequently than ever before due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic. A study conducted by the Boston University School of Public Health reports that rates of depression tripled in early 2020 and have continued to climb as 2021 comes to a close. In early 2020 in particular, rates of depression went from 8.5% to a whopping 27.8% in the first few months of the year alone. By 2021, 32.8% of Americans were experiencing depression, meaning that this mood disorder was occurring in 1 in 3 people. Despite being a difficult mental health disorder to manage, depression can be treated. For those who do seek treatment, symptoms of this disorder can lessen, allowing for less stressful lives. However, there is always a possibility that depression can intensify once again, especially if treatment is stopped. This can cause a relapse of symptoms. So, what is a depression relapse? 

What is Depression?

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), depression is a serious mood disorder that affects how people think and handle daily activities. This particular mental health disorder is characterized by a regular, consistent depressed mood and loss of interest in activities that cause difficulties in everyday life. 

There is much more to depression than just feeling down all of the time. Those who experience depression often battle symptoms including the following:

  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Excessive sleepiness or insomnia
  • Emotional eating or loss of appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Problem making decision
  • Suicidal thoughts and/or tendencies
  • Anxiety
  • Hopelessness
  • Worthlessness

Depression can be caused by genetic and/or environmental factors. Studies show that those who have depression also have low levels of “feel good” receptors in their brains, such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. These naturally low levels of these receptors can cause individuals to experience depression firsthand. Conversely, some individuals find themselves grappling with depression because of one or more environmental experiences they had or are having. It is common for people who are struggling with poverty, violence in the home, or regular exposure to trauma to also develop symptoms consistent with depression. 

Thankfully, depression is a mental health disorder that can be treated. Millions of people seek treatment for this mood disorder each year, but despite seeing success in their recovery, there still remains a possibility for a depression relapse to occur. 

What is Depression Relapse?

It is normal to hear the word “relapse” used when discussing someone who is recovering from drug or alcohol addiction, but not always when it comes to mental health. What is a depression relapse exactly? 

A depression relapse occurs when a person has established recovery from this particular mood disorder but then develops symptoms once again after having spent a period of time in recovery. According to Columbia University, remission (or as they call it, the “continuation phase”)  is defined as a timeframe in which individuals return to their regular functioning, which usually lasts approximately 16 to 20 weeks. Individuals who experience a depression relapse can see the onset of symptoms they dealt with before, but they may also find that the symptoms they develop are ones that they have not experienced before. This is common when it comes to depression relapse. 

Signs of Depression Relapse

What is depression relapse? Is it as obvious as a drug or alcohol relapse? For some individuals, it may be impossible to hide a depression relapse. However, for others, even those closest to them may not be aware that they are having distressing symptoms once again. 

There are several signs of depression relapse that a person may exhibit. Some of the most prominent and impactful include the return of symptoms such as brain fog, social withdrawal, suicidal thoughts. 

1. Brain Fog

While “brain fog” is not the official clinical term for this symptom, it certainly describes it best. Those who experience brain fog often feel disconnected from their surroundings, uninvolved in the happenings around them, have slowed thinking patterns, have difficulty carrying on conversations, and struggle to stay focused on tasks. In short, they feel as though they are caught in a proverbial cloud that is making daily living more difficult than it should be. 

2. Social Withdrawal 

Social withdrawal can easily serve as one of the explanations for the question, “what is depression relapse?” That is because those who struggle with symptoms of depression often turn inwards because of how poorly they feel. They may not have the motivation to go out and see friends or even talk with them via text or on the phone. They may convince themselves that it is easier to just stay home and mind their business. This can lead to loneliness, isolation, and can make symptoms more severe.

3. Suicidal Thoughts

Arguably the most concerning aspect of depression is the potential for individuals to experience suicidal thoughts. When suicidal thoughts occur, they can quickly manifest into suicidal behaviors and attempts, which can be fatal or cause permanent damage. When people think about “what is depression relapse?”, some of the most informative answers can come from looking at symptoms just like this one. Suicidal thoughts are not part of normal thinking, therefore, if they are being experienced, it is usually a sign of a bigger issue (such as depression).

Additional signs of depression relapse include physical aches and pains, loss of interest, feeling worthless and/or hopeless, changes in sleep and eating patterns, irritability, and low mood. 

Why Depression Relapses Occur

There are many things that can cause a depression relapse. For starters, individuals who do not continue seeking professional help are at greater risk for relapsing. Not taking care of oneself, such as through taking medications regularly or speaking with a therapist frequently can set off a pattern of behavior that leads to relapse. Other common causes of depression relapse include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Experiencing a traumatic event
  • Going through hormonal changes
  • Changes in medications
  • Major life changes, such as getting a new job, moving, or getting married

The most important thing a person can do to prevent a depression relapse is to remain committed to treatment. However, for those who do find that they have experienced a depression relapse, getting help is an absolute necessity. This can be done by reaching out to former therapists, prescribers, or other mental health specialists that a person used to see prior to the relapse. Or, depending on the severity of the relapse, an individual can seek more involved care, such as that offered at an inpatient or outpatient treatment program designed to treat mental health disorders. 

It is critical to speak up when a depression relapse is occurring. Allowing symptoms to continue on can make the situation worse than it has been before. There are plenty of resources and people willing to offer clinical, experienced help for those who find themselves experiencing symptoms of depression once again.

Depression Treatment at Neuroscience Research Institute in South Florida

At Neuroscience Research Institute in South Florida, our team is dedicated to helping each and every one of our clients obtain the help that they need to live better lives. If you or someone you love is struggling with depression, do not wait any longer to ask for help. Call or visit our admissions page right now to learn more about what we can do for you. 

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