Recovery is the goal for people who are going through depression – but is a full recovery really possible?
For me, postnatal depression grew into a long-term problem and, for many years, recovery seemed like a pipe dream. It’s only recently, after finally accepting treatment and help, that I feel far enough from the depths of depression to suspect I’ll be OK.
In my case that recovery means feeling things again. My depression brought with it a terrible numbness, and it’s quite amazing to once again feel a range of emotions, from real joy to short bursts of temper and, most importantly, hope.
But recovery looks different for everyone.
“There are certain symptoms of depression – like persistent low mood, loss of interest in things, lack of motivation, self-critical thinking and physical changes to your appetite, sleep and energy levels – and one part of recovery is having those things go away,” says Beyondblue’s Dr Stephen Carbone.
“But what a lot of people are looking for is the ability to get back to their usual life. Many would say that being treated and then being able to get on with your life (even if some symptoms recur) is recovery. Recovery is really personal: it depends where you set the bar.”
It’s estimated that 3 million Australians are currently going through depression and/or anxiety, so the one big certainty is that you’re not alone in trying to find some form of recovery.
The ways in which each of those people’s depression affects them varies significantly. Some will have one wave of the illness and never see it return, while others will face it for a longer period of time.
“Different people experience depression in different ways, and from mild to moderate to severe,” Dr Carbone says. “A lot of people will only experience a period of depression once in their life, but a significant number of people will have recurrences at different times.”
This can make it difficult to know whether a recovery is sticking around for the long term.
“Because depression is a condition that can often recur, people can feel like they need to take ongoing steps to manage it,” says Dr Carbone.
“This often means applying the lessons learnt during their treatment; someone might have learnt that sleep deprivation puts them at risk of a relapse, so they now know to get better sleep at night. Someone else might now know they need regular physical exercise to keep them well.
“Other people might need ongoing counselling; while some people need several sessions and they’re better, others need top-ups on a semi-regular basis.
“Medication can also be protective against further relapses of depression.
“The biggest thing to remember is that it’s really important to get treatment. You can get back to a better place than what you’ve been in at the height of depression, and for a lot of people it can bring you back to where you were before.”
That treatment – in one or more forms, perhaps counselling, medication and management of various lifestyle factors – is vital in taking steps towards recovery.
I once interviewed someone who’d been through depression many years ago, and he referred to his recovery like this: “Staying well is something I have to work on every day.”
I can relate. I’m doing well, but still don’t know whether to refer to my experience of depression as completely resolved or in remission. I guess only time will tell – and in that time, I’ll do everything in my power to stay well.
If you are struggling, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14. This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, you can find out more here.