Experiences of depression and recovery in Australia

Getting better

Getting better and the meaning of recovery are complex concepts that mean different things in different contexts and to different people. This section presents personal stories of getting better from depression and views on recovery.
Stories told by people about recovery covered topics such as the search for a meaningful life, going in and out of depression, and personal victories over a condition that often ruled peoples’ lives over long periods of time. Some people described why they felt recovery from depression was difficult to achieve. A few who felt they had recovered mostly described it as a gradual process which included regaining a sense of control over aspects of their lives they used to enjoy – work, friends and family. Very few people had experienced only one episode of depression; for most it was a cycle of phases of getting better followed by phases of depression. Stories of recovery reflected these patterns, with some people who had experienced periods of recovery saying they always worried about depression returning.
Pathways to getting better varied. Talking honestly about their depression and viewing it as a positive experience was considered by some as an important step towards recovery. Many also talked about the need to ‘consciously decide to want to get better’ as a critical first step. The majority of people experienced some periods of time when they felt better and various degrees of recovery. Those who had experienced long periods of feeling better emphasised that reaching that point had taken a long time and a lot of soul-searching.
A few people believed that the possibility of recovery was related to the type of depression one had experienced. Some thought recovery was not possible. However, some with this belief had nonetheless regained some of their former functioning with the help of talking therapies, medication and complementary approaches (see ‘Talking treatments’, ‘Experience with antidepressant medication’ and ‘Complementary approaches’). Others believed that accepting depression and living with it represented a form of recovery.
A few people realised they were getting better once they were able to return to study or work. This was accompanied by increased levels of self-esteem and a sense of empowerment. Andrew noticed he was more assertive at work and respected himself more, and took this as a sign of recovery. Louise said turning her experience of depression in something positive that could help other people in similar situations by volunteering with a NGO (non-governmental organisation) that supports people with mental illness helped her remain in recovery.
A few indicated that, as they went through their experiences of depression and recovery, every time they ‘came back’ they felt a bit stronger. Indications of improved mental health included better interaction and spending more time with their families and friends, a less confrontational home and/or work life, keeping regular appointments, and better control over their time. Saying ‘no’ to friends’ requests without feeling guilty was important for Jane. Akello said she stopped feeling as though she was ‘carrying the whole world on her shoulders’. Ron hoped that being in recovery would help him once again make his own decisions. Akello said recovery saw her become more organised at both home and work and able to complete tasks. For some meeting financial obligations, and not being upset by other people contributed to feeling in control. A few women said recovery was associated with losing weight gained through taking antidepressants.
Other important signs they were getting better people talked about included regaining self-respect, learning to love themselves, regaining a sense of freedom and independence, being able to do things in their life, be who they wanted to be, and a renewed sense of self-reliance. Simplifying their life, cutting back on social or work commitments, giving themselves time to get emotionally stronger before they were ready to return to work, lowering expectations and enjoying simple things were part of many people’s recovery. John commented that lowering his ‘mythical’ expectations of his marriage took the pressure off it, which in turn helped him start feeling better.
Ivan commented that he knew he was getting better after he became convinced that he needed to ‘fight’ and ‘conquer’ his depression. Dani said realising she could change her thoughts and feelings was very healing. Peter saw his recovery as developing a ‘degree of independence from depression’, aided by taking the right treatments he was receiving for his depression. For others, the goal of recovery was leading a meaningful and satisfying life, ‘whether it be with a mental illness or without’.
A few people saw recovery as largely a personal responsibility and dependent on working on oneself. Ruth said she knew she was recovering when she was able to actively pursue her goals in life and added that ‘change important for recovery has to come from within’. Colin characterised depression as a ‘solo trip’. His recovery included shifting his focus on himself to others and letting other people help along the way. Not having regrets was also important and he knew he was getting better when his wife commented that she ‘got him back’ again. Gabrielle felt that looking back into her earlier life, supported by her husband and her therapist, started her recovery process. As she got better, she learned to love and believe in herself, and recognised that there were people around her who honestly cared for her.
For most people, recovery was a very personal journey that involved both reflecting on life before depression, and using what they had learned through their experience into life afterwards. Being able to enjoy the things that had previously given them pleasure was key.

Last reviewed January 2016.
Last updated January 2016.


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