How Long Does Depression Last?
Depression is one of the most prevalent mental health problems today, with an estimated 5% of adults worldwide suffering from this condition. As mental health issues gained more attention in recent years, people became more familiar with what depression meant, including its most basic symptoms. However, despite the characteristic signs of the illness, depression is still different for everyone who struggles with it. For instance, you may ask, “How long does depression last?” and the answer would vary.
Here, we’ll go more in-depth on how long depression typically lasts, different types, and how you can feel better if you are going through this illness.
How Long Does Depression Typically Last?
Depression typically lasts for at least two weeks, with diagnosed individuals exhibiting at least five depression symptoms once a day within that time frame [*]. Some of these symptoms include showing less interest in activities that used to be enjoyable, frequent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, mood swings, disturbance in sleep patterns, changes in appetite, withdrawal from loved ones, and anxiety.
However, how long depression can last after these initial two weeks will vary drastically from person to person. This will change depending on various factors, including the type of depressive disorder they have and whether they are receiving some form of treatment. Depression can also be highly recurrent, and people may experience anywhere from one episode to several in their lifetimes.
Factors Influencing Depression Duration
Several factors can influence depression duration, including the following:
- Type of depression
- Genetics (a family history of depression or other mental illnesses)
- The presence of other mental health problems (e.g., anxiety)
- Physical health problems
- Stressful life events
- Lack of emotional support
- Environmental circumstances
- Experience of trauma
Typical Duration of Different Types of Depression
There are different types of depression, and each may vary in how long they typically last.
- Acute Depressive Episodes. Acute depression — also known as major depressive disorder (MDD), clinical depression, or unipolar depression — is characterized by intense feelings of sadness and can last anywhere from a few weeks to several years.
- Recurrent Depressive Disorder. Also known as recurrent depression, recurrent depressive disorder is when you experience repeated episodes of depression that come and go over time. People with this type of depression usually feel stable and well between episodes. There is a subtype of this depression called recurrent brief depression, in which individuals experience short-term depressive episodes that last for two to seven days [*].
- Chronic Depression. Chronic depression is often called persistent depressive disorder (PDD) or dysthymia. This type of depression lasts for at least two years but can continue for longer. It is the only form of depression where symptoms last this long. The most significant difference between PDD and MDD is how long symptoms last.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is associated with the production of more melatonin in our bodies during months of the year when days are shorter with less sunlight. This can result in symptoms of depression, but the depression timeline here is highly dependent on the time of year and not on other factors.
Signs of Prolonged Depression
For some people, depression may occur only once in their lifetime. However, most people will typically have multiple episodes throughout their life. During depressive episodes, symptoms occur nearly every day and may include the following:
- Feelings of intense sadness, worthlessness, or hopelessness
- Irritability or agitation
- Loss of interest in formerly pleasurable or enjoyable activities
- Sleep disturbances, such as excessive sleep or insomnia
- Excessive fatigue and lack of energy
- Slowness in thinking, speaking, or body movements
- Fixating past mistakes and failures
- Indulging in guilt or self-blame
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering things, or making decisions
- Frequent thoughts of death or suicide
Depression can vary widely in its effect on how well an individual functions daily, but for many people, it is a debilitating disease. It can cause noticeable problems in daily activities, such as school, work, and relationships. Others may simply feel generally unhappy without knowing why.
How is Depression Treated?
If left untreated, depression can worsen. There are many treatment options for individuals with depression. Because each person’s experience with the condition is unique, it requires individualized treatment. Consulting a mental health professional specializing in depression can help you find the appropriate therapeutic techniques suitable for your needs and depression recovery goals.
Some techniques that therapists often use include the following:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Group therapy
- Family education
- Supplemental therapy
Your doctor may also refer you to a psychiatrist for medication evaluation and management. A combination of several treatment methods is usually the most effective.
Self-Care Tips to Help Decrease Depression Duration
Treatment for depression does not end in your therapist’s or psychiatrist’s clinic. You can combat this illness by using the right self-care strategies. Try any of the following if you experience symptoms of depression:
- Guided imagery
- Practicing positive self-talk
- Trying a new hobby
- Prioritizing relaxation
- Having a good sleep routine
- Incorporating movement and exercise
- Healthy diet
- Spending time in nature
When to Seek Professional Help for Depression
If your depression has lasted for at least two weeks and is interfering with your ability to function in daily life, such as in school and work, then it may be a good idea to see a professional. This also applies if you are having difficulty maintaining your relationships or social life and are contemplating suicide.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some commonly asked questions about depression.
Can depression go away on its own without treatment?
In most cases, depression will not remedy itself without treatment. It is always recommended that you consult with a qualified mental health professional if you are experiencing the symptoms of depression regularly. Professionals like therapists or psychiatrists will allow you to express your feelings in a safe environment and work on a treatment plan that best suits your needs.
Is it possible for depression to come back after a period of recovery?
Yes, it is possible to relapse. This is most likely to occur after stopping treatment for a previous episode.
If I've been depressed for a few weeks, does that mean it's chronic?
It depends. Chronic depression is characterized by symptoms lasting over two weeks and for as long as two years. People with chronic depression also suffer more severe and frequent symptoms than individuals with situational depression.
The Bottom Line
Although depression has several symptoms that characterize the condition, not everyone with the illness experiences them in exactly the same way. For some people, depression only happens once in a blue moon. For others, it may last much longer and persist through the years. In most cases, treating depression will require the support of the right mental health professional and developing your mental health coping skills. The good news is there is light at the end of the tunnel, and depression can be managed with the right treatment options.