Many people who are living with depression will experience a remission of symptoms with at least one relapse. This return of symptoms is also called a recurrence.

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A depression relapse is when you start experiencing symptoms of depression again after they’ve been gone for several months. If you’re experiencing a depression relapse, you may have different symptoms than you did during previous depressive episodes.

Researchers have not clearly defined how long a period of remission needs to be for new symptoms to be considered a relapse. However, it may be worth noting that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) describes a major depressive episode as a period of at least 2 weeks during which you’ve had at least five of a defined set of symptoms nearly every day.

For a diagnosis of major depressive disorder, you need to have either a depressed mood or a loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities as one of the five symptoms, alongside a change in your daily functioning.

In addition, some researchers use the words “relapse” and “recurrence” to refer to separate concepts. In this article, we use “relapse” as we’ve defined above.

Managing a depression relapse can be challenging. However, spotting the signs early can help you find the right support and treatment as soon as possible.

Relapse happens to many people who are living with depression. If you’re experiencing a relapse, you’re not alone. Studies show that people who’ve had a major depressive episode had a 60% chance of their depression symptoms returning at some point in their lives.

Many things can activate a depression relapse. They can include:

  • medication changes
  • substance use
  • a traumatic event, such as a death in the family
  • a large transition, like going to college or starting a new job
  • stressful life events, such as fighting among friends
  • a change in the season — some people experience major depressive disorder (MDD) with seasonal pattern, formerly known as seasonal affective disorder

Many people have a relapse in their depression if they stop following their treatment plan.

Sometimes a relapse of depression can feel sudden and overwhelming.

In a depression relapse, your symptoms may be different than they were in the past, so they may not necessarily feel “normal” to you.

Consider noting down any depressive symptoms you’re feeling and when you experienced them. This information may help you determine which kind of support would best suit your needs.

Here are some potential symptoms of a depression relapse.

Sadness or numbness

In a depressive episode, you may tend to experience certain emotional states more frequently.

You might feel sad most of the time — not just about a particular event, but about life in general. Some people also deal with anxiety, while others report feeling numb or devoid of emotions.

Feelings of guilt or worthlessness

If you are experiencing depression, you may feel guilt and worry about being a burden to others in your life. You might ruminate, thinking over and over again about things you should have done differently in life.

Many people dealing with depression also feel a lack of self-worth. You may feel that you don’t like many things about yourself and may experience self-loathing.

Irritability

Some people with depression feel more irritable. Research shows that men experiencing depression tend to be angrier and more irritable than women with the condition.

Irritability in depression can look like snapping at your friends and family or feeling angry for no specific reason.

Sleep problems

Many people with depression have problems with sleeping. You might struggle to fall asleep at night or have issues staying asleep.

Some people experiencing depression sleep more than usual. You might stay in bed after waking up in the morning or nap throughout the day.

You might find that these sleeping disturbances leave you feeling very tired throughout the day.

Fatigue

With depression, even if you get the right amount of sleep, you might still feel fatigued.

Many people with depression have low energy levels and struggle to complete necessary tasks throughout the day. Feeling tired can also make it hard to concentrate on things you have to do, like work or school.

Disinterest in activities you used to like

If you’re experiencing depression, you may lose interest in things you used to find fun. Hobbies that once brought you joy may no longer give you any pleasure. You might even dread doing things you used to love.

Many people experiencing depression and depression relapse also withdraw from their friends and spend more time alone.

Changes in your appetite

You might experience a change in your appetite and eating with depression.

Some people find themselves eating more to cope with uncomfortable feelings. Other people notice they don’t have an appetite at all.

It’s also common to experience weight fluctuations if you’re dealing with depression.

Unexplained body pain

Many people experiencing depression have pains in their body that don’t have a physical explanation.

Some of the most common physical pains caused by depression include stomach pain, muscle aches, headaches, and muscle soreness.

If you have chronic aches that don’t have any underlying explanation, that can be a sign of depression.

Thoughts of self-harm or suicide

Many people with depression deal with ongoing thoughts of self-harm or suicide. Some people engage in self-harming behavior as a way to cope with depressive feelings.

Research shows that people with depression are at a higher risk of suicide. Some people experience passive suicidal thoughts, like feeling that life would be easier if they “disappeared” or “went away.” Others deal with more active suicidal thoughts, such as making plans to attempt suicide.

You may also ruminate about death without considering suicide or self-injury.

If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts, it’s important to speak with a mental health professional immediately. You may feel overwhelmed, but help is available.

Depression relapses can feel very unsettling, especially if you’re already recovering from a depressive episode.

However, there are steps you can take to help prevent a depression relapse and maintain your recovery:

  • Follow your treatment plan consistently. Make sure to follow any instructions that your treatment team gives you, including going to therapy and taking your medication correctly. Consider speaking with your treatment team if you feel an increase in your depressive symptoms or experience any new ones.
  • Practice self-care. In depression recovery, it’s important to get enough sleep, eat well, and do other everyday acts of self-care to boost your physical and mental health. Think about how you might limit stress in your life, such as saying no to extra projects at work or managing stressful relationships.
  • Have a reliable support network. Try connecting with family and friends who can support you in your depression recovery. Encourage them to check in with you regularly if you’re starting to feel depressed and need more support. Consider finding a depression support group where you can meet people who understand what you’re going through.
  • Do things that you love. Consider engaging in activities that you like to do, even if they don’t feel as fun anymore. Reconnecting with pleasurable activities may help you feel a little better.

Having a depression relapse can feel overwhelming, especially if you’ve been in recovery for a while. You may feel like you’re not able to get better, and you may worry about being depressed forever.

While these feelings are understandable, remember that depression is a mental health condition that healthcare professionals can help you manage with treatment. And this often takes time.

If you think you might be experiencing a depression relapse, it’s important to speak with a medical professional. They can suggest different treatment options, including therapy or medication.

While a depression relapse may seem frustrating and challenging, the right treatment plan and support network can help you begin to feel better.

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