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Life After Depression: How to Thrive – What Helps. What Gets in the Way

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Life After Depression: How to Thrive - What Helps. What Gets in the Way

Depression keeps itself alive with an intense, overwhelming sense of hopelessness. This hopelessness kills the motivation to reach into the world for support, something that is already fragile because of the stigma that is so often attached to mental illness.

New research, published in the journal Psychiatry Research, offers a reason for hope. There is life after depression – a strong, healthy, happy life – and the research has found the factors that will help to make this possible and those that will get in the way.

In a study involving more than 2,500 people who had experienced a major depressive disorder at some time in their lives, researchers found that about two in five people (39%) were able to fully recover and experience full mental health. The researchers defined full mental health as:

  • experiencing happiness or life satisfaction almost every day for the last month;
  • a full year without depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts or substance abuse; and
  • positive social and psychological well-being. 

The research revealed important findings about what helped, what hindered and what had no bearing at all on the likelihood of thriving after depression.

Life After Depression. How to Thrive

What makes the difference.

The research found that social support played a major role in achieving full mental health after depression.  Having at least one trusted friend quadrupled the likelihood of a full recovery.

Sometimes depression can make people feel as though they are just out of reach and loving someone with depression can be lonely, frustrating, painful and deeply worrying. If you’re close to someone with depression, you might feel as though you’re not making a difference, but that’s what depression does – it’s the dirty little liar that tries to pull the fight out of all of us – those who have the illness and those who care who would do anything to make it better for them. What this research is telling us is that being there, as a trusted friend, has the power to make an enormous difference in helping your loved one find the way out of depression. 

Formerly depressed adults who had emotionally supportive and close relationships were four times more likely to report complete mental health than those without such relationships. Having at least one trust friend was critical to cultivating complete mental health.” Mercedes Bern-Klug, Associate Professor, University of Iowa.

The research also found that hose who fully recovered from depression were more likely to deal with stress through exercise or spirituality.

There is so much research showing the remarkable capacity of exercise to reduce the symptoms of depression. Exercise restores the levels of two important neurotransmitters, glutamate and GABA, to healthy levels. It also seems to have a healing effect on the damage done by inflammation. Increasingly, research is finding that systemic inflammation is a major contributing factor to depression. Regularly exercising for periods between 8-20 minutes seems to be enough to make the difference.

The surprising factor that makes no difference at all. 

The length of time someone has been struggling with depression makes no difference to their ability to reach full mental health. According to the research, people who had experienced depression for over two years were just as able to fully recover and flourish in their lives after depression, as those who had the illness for only a month. 

What gets in the way of recovery.

The research also found a number of factors that seemed to undermine the likelihood of achieving full mental health after depression. These included poor physical health, chronic pain, insomnia, and a history of substance abuse.

The take-aways.

One of the reasons that depression is so debilitating is because the core symptoms of depression make it hard to reach out for support or to keep up the for the way out. When they combine forces, lethargy, sadness, emptiness, and intense feelings of hopelessness put up a mighty push against even the strongest, bravest and most determined human spirit. The social isolation and stillness that comes from this feeds depression and makes recovery even harder, but where social isolation hurts, social connection heals.

This research gives hope and encouragement to keep up the fight. Many people who experience depression will fully recover. Many others will find some level of relief from their symptoms. There is no quick fix for depression, but there is great hope for healing. The fight is worth it – the capacity to flourish in life after depression is there.

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11 Comments

Anita

I’d be interested in hearing how people cope with a depressed spouse who is self absorbed even when well, won’t talk about his depression yet expects support and cannot show any empathy in return.
More focus should also be attached to those who care for, or live with, someone with depression as their stories are untold. Carers are very likely to get depressed themselves.

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Hey Sigmund

Anita your stories are untold – I absolutely agree with you. Depression never only affects one life. Loving someone with depression can be such a lonely thing. This it what depression does – it isolates people. I know there would be so many others who would relate to what you are going through. We desperately need a cure for this don’t we. Know that there is a lot of research happening in the area so hopefully they aren’t too far off.

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Tania

The carer also needs a friend and supporter away from the main depressed person.

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Jenny Bohner

That is spot on! There is a support group called ARAFEMI in Australia to help carers of depressed people. They will send you some literature if you request it. Unfortunately, depression does seem to cause the person to become self-absorbed, and it can actually be quite helpful for the person to do some volunteer work. Being helpful seems to make them less depressed. Good luck to you.

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Josephine

Hi Anita. What you described about depressed spouse is exactly what I am going through right now with my husband. He shows no emphaty and shuts down totally. I am very lost and in depression. I can’t find my way out.

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Marion

To add to the above, with which I agree, children of those suffering depression are vitally in need of understanding, compassion and support.

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Tori

how do i deal with the constant thoughts of taking my own life, when my medication isnt helping me any. in fact im afraid its making me worse. i feel like my only support is my girlfriend, but shes in a different state and i currently have no way of communicating with her other than through letters. i just constantly think about ways to end my life and im tired of crying everynight and having these episodes of rage or complete sadness. i just want to get better but its been 5 years and ive just been getting worse. any advice please? at this point anything would help.

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Karen - Hey Sigmund

Tori please please please go back to your doctor. Antidepressants can take a little while to work, but if you’ve been on them for a while (longer than six weeks), or if you feel as though they are making you feel worse, it might be that these are the right ones for you. There are plenty of other options though in terms of medication. Your doctor will be able to help you with this. Also, read this article. There are other things that can help. Mindfulness and exercise done together can reduce symptoms by up to 40%. This is because of the way they change the brain and help to protect it against depression. There is a lot of really reliable, strong research that has found that mindfulness and exercise can really help with depression but when they are done together, they can be powerful. Here is an article that explains it. http://www.heysigmund.com/dealing-with-depression-meditation-exercise/.

It’s really important to keep in your mind that one of the symptoms of depression is feelings of hopelessness. What this means is that your feelings of hopelessness aren’t because things are hopeless, but because that’s what your depression is telling you right now. Things won’t always be like this. I know how awful and debilitating depression can be but it really can be managed. Please talk to your doctor and read the article I have linked to in this comment. You won’t feel like exercising or meditation but it can really make a difference. Exercise can just be a 30 minute walk outside. For the meditation part, there are plenty of apps that can help you but one that I like is the Smiling Mind app. You can download it for free here https://smilingmind.com.au/smiling-mind-app/. Do this two things and give it at least for weeks. If in the meantime you feel as though you are really struggling and thinking about suicide, please call one of the numbers here. I can’t tell which country you are from, but wherever you are there will be somewhere you can get 24 hour support http://www.heysigmund.com/about/if-you-need-more-support/.

You will get through this. Keep fighting for you – one day, I promise, you will look back and be so grateful that you did. Love and strength to you.

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Zeeshaan

I got depression when i was in 9th grade now i have passed 12th …but being from a less aware family about mental ilness i didn’t get the well medication..any how i passed my 10th and for further study i went to a city where i started my medication after a log hardship as people started thinking that its not a illness but just my thoughts…but anyhow i started but it didn’t help me muc.then i came to Delhi as i am currently living here and started my medication in aiims ..as i am improving day by day but i think each day is still harder..iys my 5th months of treatment , everyday there is a trauma ,sadness,lonliness, hopelessness..i am unable to concentrate on my studies…plz give me suggestions what to do now..and yes i have not told anyone even my parents don’t know i am depressed and having medication

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Karen Young

Zeeshaan I wish you could know how many people have depression and would absolutely understand what you are going through. Depression is so common and there is absolutely no shame in it at all. It is a physiological condition, and although we aren’t really sure exactly what causes it, it is likely to be a combination of factors that could happen to anybody. Perhaps the most important things you can do to help your recovery are exercise, meditation and sleep. There are many articles on this link about the things that can help. Please take your time to look through them and see what feels right for you http://www.heysigmund.com/category/being-human/depression/. If you are taking your medication, it’s important that you continue to do so under the supervision of your doctor. I also want you to know that you can get through this. Your are brave, strong and resilient – you’ve proven that. Hang in there and keep fighting for you.

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