How Can Someone Recover from Depression?

While depression is a common and treatable illness, the individual affected is not the only one who suffers. If someone experiences a bout during their formative school years, the lost time in the classroom, suffering grades and attendance can have a major, lifelong impact on that person’s future.

Depression is real and it is also very treatable for 60 to 80 percent of people, but when you are experiencing symptoms, they can be debilitating and have a significant impact on your life. Treatment usually takes a multifaceted approach where people get a combination of medication and therapy. In some cases, additional treatment is necessary, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).

The majority of people who receive effective treatment will not have a depression relapse. However, about half of the people who receive treatment during their first bout of depression experience a recurrence at some point.

People need to go through a minimum of four symptom-free months before they can be considered cured. It is referred to as a relapse if your symptoms improve over four months, but before this time is up, your symptoms come back.


When a recurrence of depression occurs, it is when someone has a minimum of four symptom-free months and then they develop another bout of depression. The likelihood of a third depression recurrence is about 80 percent after someone has two recurrences. When someone has a recurrence, over their lifetime, the average recurrences that they experience is five to nine.

What to Expect During Depression Recovery

There is a high risk of relapse when someone is going through depression recovery. To reduce the risk, it is imperative that they go through ongoing maintenance. Therapy has a very good track record when it comes to preventing both recurrence and relapse. The type of depression, how depression feels for someone and the individual ultimately determine which type of therapy will be the most beneficial. 

One of the most common types of therapy is talk therapy. It allows people to talk about what is happening in their life right now. This type of therapy also helps them to learn how to better respond to events and stressors in a different way. Because of this, they are able to reduce how severe their symptoms and reduce their risk of a recurrence.

A great form of talk therapy is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). When you are going through this type of therapy, it helps to explore deeper beliefs and thought patterns. During a session, the focus is not always just the current circumstances that someone is dealing with. If depression is mild to moderate, this therapy tends to be very effective. It can also be beneficial for people who are experiencing severe depression as long as the therapist guiding the session has a high level of expertise.

Those undergoing CBT are encouraged to look at the specific triggers that are contributing to their depression. Then, the therapist will help them to look at their thought patterns and beliefs as they relate to these triggers. Once all of this is accomplished, patients learn how to take their thoughts that are negative and turn them into ones that are positive.

After learning new coping methods, people are able to make life choices that are affirming and positive. These perspective and attitude changes can help to reduce a person’s current symptoms, as well as reduce their risk of a recurrence or relapse.

When someone is making choices that are more positive, their triggers and stressors are far less likely to cause them to experience the negative issues associated with making choices during bouts of depression. There are studies that show that when medication is the only treatment, the risk of relapse is about 60 percent where this figure drops to 30 percent when they use CBT for treatment,

Unless a person with depression also has a dependence on alcohol or drugs, experts usually do not recommend that they use group therapy. However, therapists often encourage the loved ones if a depressed person to work as a team so that they can help to ensure that they keep up with their maintenance plan and recovery.


Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

ECT is a highly invasive technique but is effective for treating medication-resistant depression and other forms of severe mental illness; schizophrenia, bipolar mania, and psychosis.

ECT induces a brain seizure, and seizures alter the brain’s wiring. Patients usually feel relief from symptoms after the first session, but doctors typically prescribe three sessions a week for four weeks.

Patient’s must undergo an electrocardiogram prior to the first session. Seizures cause increased heart rate and blood pressure, and if patients have heart problems, they should not undergo treatment.

General anesthesia and muscle relaxants are administered for ECT treatments. Patients are unconscious and do not feel any pain. They can usually return to school or work after a brief recovery period.

Long-term side effects may include short or long-term memory loss, but this is rare. Short-term effects can include confusion, jaw pain, headache, nausea, or fatigue. These usually subside after about an hour, although some patients may need up to a day to recover.

Trans Magnetic Intracranial Stimulation (TMS)

This is a new treatment option and is much less invasive than ECT. It is an outpatient procedure, and it works by creating a magnetic field around the patient’s cranium. From there, a magnetic coil is put against the patient’s head and used to target specific areas of the brain. A low-dose electrical pulse is used to stimulate certain neural pathways in the targeted brain region.

Patients are usually prescribed four or five sessions per week for four to six weeks. Side effects are mild, including headaches or tingling of the scalp where the coil was placed and are typically resolved with over-the-counter pain relief medication.

Most patients who undergo TMS for depression find relief from their symptoms.

Exploring the Medications Prescribed for Depression

There are a variety of medications that can be prescribed to those experiencing depression. In some cases, depression resists treatment and in these instances, someone may be prescribed different depression drugs from various drug classes. These medications may be used with other treatments, such as therapy and transcranial magnetic stimulation.

The primary medications include:

  • SSRI
  • SNRI
  • MAOI

One of the newer types of antidepressants are SSRIs. These work by affecting the brain chemical known as serotonin which has a direct effect on a person’s mood. Another type that is similar is called an SNRI. This type affects serotonin as well as another brain chemical called norepinephrine.

Feelings of alertness, motivation, and energy are all affected by norepinephrine. Some people who have depression will have a noticeable reduction in their energy even when they are getting plenty of sleep.

An older form of medication used to treat depression are known as MAOIs. It was in the 1950s when this type was first prescribed. They work by inhibiting MAO, a type of neurotransmitter. Both norepinephrine and serotonin are broken down by MAO. When the breakdown of norepinephrine and serotonin are slowed own, these chemicals remain in the brain for longer, helping to enhance a person’s mood. Due to the risk of significant side effects, MAOIs are not prescribed as often. In many cases, doctors will only use these as a last resort when a patient does not respond to SSRIs or SNRIs.

How to Stay on the Path to Recovery

There is a high relapse rate when a person has clinical depression, but with the proper support, people can be free from depression long-term. It is very important that people be mindful of their triggers and avoid them whenever possible.

With therapy, people can make realistic goals and manage the triggers that they cannot avoid. Loved ones should continue to be a support system long-term to help people stay on the right track. It is also important for patients to keep up with their medication regimen since stopping them significantly increases the risk of a relapse.

Depression is real and we can help you or your loved one to work toward depression recovery and overcome the condition over the long-term. Call us today at (310) 878-4346 to learn more and schedule your consultation.

Updated content 12/24/20