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GETTING BACK ON TRACK - Recovering from Depression

This is the final article in a 3-part series on depression. Articles 1 and 2 explored the subject of what depression is and some of the contributing factors. This article looks at how to recover from depression and maintain wellbeing.

Depression is a serious illness that not only affects the individual but can have a profound impact on others. That’s why it’s important to seek help. Being informed about treatment options can make the prospect of seeking help feel less daunting. Also, rather than looking at one’s depression as a sign of weakness, perhaps depression is the mind-body system sending a message that something needs to change, that the way one has been “doing life” needs an upgrade or modification. Seeking help could, therefore, be one of the smartest things a person might do.

Treatment – not a one size fits all approach While depression has common symptoms, the experience of depression is individual, in the context of what is happening in a person’s life. Perhaps there have been significant changes and challenges; perhaps the cumulative impact of prolonged “wear and tear” from stress; perhaps losing one’s way or realising that life is just not working as well as it could. These individual factors are often part of a crisis in meaning that needs to be addressed – where am I at and where am I going?

Seeking help is not about getting fixed – it is more about re-alignment. It is often about learning new perspectives, skills and ways of responding to life’s curve balls. This may involve changing how we think about ourselves and what happens to us, how we react emotionally and how we act (our habits). At its core, psychological well-being rests on our capacity to manage our thoughts, feelings, behaviour and our interactions with others. In other words, the patterns that maintain depression are likely to touch on each of these aspects of our life experience.

Recovery Road Map Psychotherapy involves a collaborative relationship in which the therapist acts as a guide to help achieve a number of important tasks in building a road map for recovery: Task #1: to reach an understanding of the factors that have led to and continue to maintain depression. This should provide a cohesive explanation to a person of what they are experiencing, with an understanding of the specific factors that can be changed. Task #2: to develop a treatment plan that empowers the person to start taking control – in measured steps that are practical and achievable. Task #3: to develop the skills needed to maintain the changes in thinking, emotions, ways of relating and behaviour. Task #4: to address any unresolved events from the past, enabling the memories of those events to be properly archived so that they do not interfere with the present.

Wellbeing Road Map Once depression has been stabilised, a person will normally have begun experiencing a significant internal shift in mood and thinking, feeling more confident and connected. The next important phase is to develop a lifestyle plan to consolidate the changes and to provide a roadmap for maintaining wellbeing, which may cover the following areas: 1. Understanding one’s strengths and how they can be enlisted as resources. Happy people become more satisfied not simply because they feel better, but because they develop resources for living well. 2. Developing a vision for a meaningful life, with goals that link intentions with actions. Being connected to something bigger than yourself can be a powerful reminder of the bigger picture of life. 3. Seeking enrichment in social connections, interests and work. 4. Ensuring that lifestyle patterns (nutrition, sleep, exercise, work, recreation) support physical and mental health.

Depression is treatable. Although the experience of depression can feel like the end of the road, seeking help can be a giant step towards recovery and wellbeing.

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