For those battling major depression, depressive episodes are often debilitating. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) highlights symptoms such as hopelessness, loss of energy, lack of interest and low self-esteem as some of the hallmark symptoms that accompany a depressive episode. Due to these often all-consuming symptoms during depressive episodes, life may seem like more of a chore than a bright, enjoyable place.
This is why once the dark curtain of a depressive episode has lifted and the light of a more positive mood appears, it is of the utmost importance to figure out ways to stay in remission. The time when depression has faded should certainly be enjoyed and cherished; however, the difficult preventive work must begin in an attempt to avoid future episodes. Maintenance is often a difficult part of the wellness journey.
Al Levin highlighted the importance of awareness of warning signs of depression to aid in the process of prevention. This is absolutely the first, essential step in attempting to prevent a future depressive episode. Warning signs will be different for every person and some warning signs may not even be recognised by the person when beginning this process. For instance, an individual may not realise that he begins to isolate and that this is a warning sign of an upcoming depressive episode. It may be a friend, family member or mental health professional that assists someone in identifying differences in behaviour. For example, a friend may be able to point out that a person battling depression is not answering the phone as often.
Identification of warning signs can take time and effort but can sometimes prevent a person from slipping into a deeper, more serious depressive episode.
So, now the question is, what does one do once the person has figured out what their warning signs are? Often, there is no one huge ‘solution’ to recovery and wellness when battling depression. Recovery is more like a puzzle in which there are several pieces to put together. In addition to medication management options that a person can explore with a medication provider, one piece to the recovery puzzle is to have a toolbox of behavioural coping strategies ready to use once the warning signs appear.
A mental health professional can assist a person in identifying personalised skills that he or she can use when they suspect an onset of depression. Again, these strategies will be different for everyone. For instance, some people may find great benefit from going on a nature hike; whereas, another person might prefer sitting a coffee shop and writing poetry. Sometimes coping skills are trial and error. Something may work for a year and then all of a sudden not work anymore. For this reason, it is a wonderful idea to have many strategies ready to use and to keep an open dialogue about this issue with loved ones and helping professionals.
Another piece of the puzzle can be to ‘get out the shovel’ so to speak and dig deep into thoughts and beliefs that one has about his or herself, other people, and the world. Often times our thoughts and beliefs contribute to how we feel about daily situations. For instance, if someone believes that they do not deserve to be happy; their thoughts and feelings will be shadowed by this belief. Dr Aaron Beck developed Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, a specific type of therapy in which this type of exploration can take place with a licensed professional.
The pieces that each person needs to put their puzzle together in order to maintain stability with a more positive mood are very personal and important. Thus, the initial ultimate goal is for each person to find the pieces that he or she needs to live a fulfilling life.
The process of wellness and recovery is a never-ending journey, whether a person is battling depression or another medical issue. Ideally, each person will reach a pinnacle in their recovery in which they are feeling worthy and lovable and in turn be able to maintain this stage of wellness by continuing to use their strategies that they have identified. Having the privilege to have witnessed clients (who are specifically battling depression) go through this process and continue to maintain their stage of wellness is absolutely amazing and it is my personal hope that each person in recovery would be able to experience this.
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Bridget Kennedy is a Licensed Professional Counsellor in Texas. She has been working in the mental health field for over 10 years with a diversity of clients in different settings.