Julia asks “Hi Emily, I am wondering if a stressful event can trigger a depressive episode?”.
Firstly I’d like to state unequivocally that I am NOT a health care professional, I am just a person with Bipolar who is willing to share my experience with this mental illness.
In my experience a stressful event can definitely lead to a depressive episode. In fact this is often how the bipolar is diagnosed in the first place. That was my experience. I lost a business in the floods in I think it was 2010 or 11 (my memory of that time is diminished due to the electric shock treatment I had). Insurance did not pay out for us, they found a loophole and consequently we were very nearly bankrupted by the event. This led to a very deep depression for me, where I was nearly catatonic for a long time (months almost a year). It took more than 4 psychiatrists and innumerable hospital stays to finally get to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
Once I was diagnosed though and treated appropriately with 3 rounds of 12 electric shock treatments and the right mix of medications – which I have outlined in a previous post; I have found that I can ‘catch’ the depression early in situations where I have foresight or prior knowledge that a stressful event is going to take place. For example if I know in advance that I have to move house or change jobs I can speak to my psychiatrist and put a plan in place to avoid a depressive episode.
The trouble really only begins when I do not have prior knowledge of the stressful event, that is a very different scenario and it can actually go either way, that is to say an unexpected stressful event can lead to a depressive episode or a manic episode, or sometimes even a weird mix of the two across time.
I think the key here is to have regular contact with your psychiatrist and your GP as well as your ‘carer’ – in my case my husband. He is my mental health carer in so far as he can often see my behaviour changing before I can and can alert me and my doctors to this fact. Also he can make important decisions regarding treatment on my behalf when I am not of sound mind. The primary one being the decision to have a round of Electroconvulsive “shock” treatment.
So in summary, a stressful event can definitely trigger a depressive episode, but there is plenty of things you can do to avoid that and/or to manage that if it occurs.