Depression Relapse: It's a thing
About one in 4 women and one in 6 men will experience a depressive episode in their lifetime. What causes depression to occur over and over again? The risk factors for a relapse of a major depressive episode include a family history of depression, cognitive reactivity to sad moods, a recent trauma or loss, AND the number of depressive episodes you have had in the past.
50% of people who have just 1 depressive episode will have one or more additional episodes in their lifetime. And approximately 80% of those with a history of 2 or more depressive episodes will experience another recurrence. Depression is a highly recurrent illness.
Negative feeling states and thought patterns seem to get wired together and can recreate depressive states more easily the next time, and easier the next time...and so on and so on.
However, Mindfulness based psychological researchers have found that regular mindfulness meditation practice and mindfulness based cognitive therapy significantly decreases the relapse/recurrence of depression (Teasedale et al., 2000).
How does mindfulness meditation and mindfulness based psychotherapy help with depression?
The brain is filled with billions of neurons which are connected via synapses. Approximately 10,000 synapses connect 100 billion neurons. Neurons fire whenever we have an experience, including the experience of meditation, mindfulness or presence. This experience of spaciousness, clarity and presence is located in regions of the brain which are activated during meditation.
"Mindful awareness is a form of experience that seems to promote neural plasticity". Neuroplasticity is essentially brain rewiring- "neuroplasticity is the term used when connections in the brain change in response to experience" (Siegal, 2007). When we practice mindfulness meditation regularly - we can, over time increase "synaptic densities in those regions that were activated with mindful practice" (Siegal, 2007). In essence, by meditating we rewire our brains by increasing the connections in the parts of our brain which are stimulated by meditation. The increase in activity here makes it more likely that we will hang out in this region of our brain more often, as it grows in synaptic density. This spaciousness makes us less "cognitively reactive", making us less captive to our old depressive thinking patterns.
Mindfulness facilitates an awakened flexible approach to all of life- love, relationships, disappointments, challenges, fear, pain, loss, and joy.
When stresses seem to call for a depressive reaction, we can instead respond to ourselves and the situation from this enlivened synaptic dense region of the brain with compassionate wisdom. Mindfulness based psychotherapy and practices unlock us from a reactive and choice-less mental prison. The ruminative thought patterns of yesterday are uncovered and released and depressive groundhog day(s) becomes a memory.
You can break the cycle.
You are beautiful.
Love & Light,