How Long Does Depression Last?

courtesy Dafne Cholet flickr.jpg

Depression makes you miserable. Nothing feels right, you aren’t up to doing the things you used to do, and you’re exhausted and irritable all the time. You want nothing more than a magic wand that can wave it all away so you can go back to being you - immediately.

That, of course, is the problem. No matter what treatment you take, whether it is in the form of prescription or talk therapy, feeling better is going to take some time.

On average, a person suffering from major depression will experience symptoms from at least four to eight months. Interventional treatment might lessen this timeframe.

Depression may also recur. 40% of those who have suffered a severe depressive episode will relapse within a year. For those who have had three episodes of depression, the recurrence risk is significantly higher.


There are many possible prescribed medications out there. Some suppress the reabsorption of certain chemicals (serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine) in the brain, and some increase the amount of these same chemicals. Some are designed to elevate the mood, and others are to calm the anxiety that often accompanies depression.

With so many possibilities, it takes an experienced practitioner to listen to the patient and determine which might be most effective.

Patients are often surprised – and frustrated – because many of these drugs take four to eight weeks to reach full effect. That is four to eight weeks of continued misery. Sometimes, if there is no improvement after a month or so, the practitioner may change the dosage or even prescribe something else, either instead or in addition.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) conducted a major study of so-called “real world” treatment satisfaction. The study of 4,041 patients had four levels of treatment, and showed that more than 50% of patients went into remission after two levels of treatment. Treatment options in the first level were an SSRI and in the second level contained a number of different prescription options as well as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT.)

Overall, 70% of the participants in the study who did not withdraw were able to get relief from their symptoms.

Talk Therapy

Some patients find it speeds the process if they engage in talk therapy at the same time they are receiving a prescription medication to treat their depression. Others prefer not to use any medication and rely exclusively on psychotherapy.

Studies have shown that mild to moderate depression may be successfully treated with talk therapy only. Severe depression generally requires both psychotherapy and pharmacological treatment for a successful outcome.

If you suffer from depression, don’t give up on your treatment. Speak up. Let your physician or other practitioner know that you are still having symptoms. Ask them to review their treatment plan and whether or not you would benefit from additional or different treatments.

Sources:, and

Image courtesy: Dafne Cholet / flickr commons


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