Depression is more than just fleeting feelings of sadness or a brief dip in mood; it's a profound mental health condition that can affect people’s lives in lots of ways.
If you’ve been diagnosed with depression, or think you might have depression, it’s natural to wonder how long you can expect your condition to last.
This article is here to help answer key questions around how long depression lasts, how long depressive episodes can be, and the length of the recovery journey for those struggling with depression.
How long can depression last?
Depression is a complex mental health disorder and affects everyone differently. Some people might feel the weight of their depression symptoms for a relatively short period, perhaps a few weeks. Others may find themselves navigating its challenges for several months or even years.
Firstly, how long do symptoms usually last before you could be diagnosed with depression? Clinical guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) says that depression is defined as the presence of a depressed mood or diminished interest in activities occurring most of the day, nearly every day, for at least 2 weeks. These core symptoms of depression are accompanied by other symptoms like low self-worth, fatigue, and feelings of hopelessness.
A combination of factors influences the length of your depression. These include:
- The severity and type of depression you’re struggling with
- Whether you’re genetically predisposed to depression
- Environmental factors like the occurrence of any stressful life events while you have depression
- How soon you seek help for your depression can also have a big impact on the length of time you experience symptoms.
- Physical and mental health – if you’re struggling with other conditions, whether these are mental or physical health conditions, this is likely to extend the period you’ll be struggling with depression, compared to just having depression on its own
- Support network – having friends, family or peer-related support around you is vital to effective recovery from depression. Having this in place will increase the likelihood of you recovering faster than you would without it
It’s important to remember that depression has no ‘typical’ timeframe. Each person has a different recovery journey. Never feel pressured to feel better faster; feelings of guilt or shame for not getting better quickly could only make your recovery tougher.
How long do different types of depression last?
Episodes of different types of depression will last for different lengths of time. These timeframes are not precise, as many factors contribute to the length of depression, but the below offers some general guidance.
Major depressive disorder (MDD)
Also known as clinical depression, MDD is what most people are referring to when they talk about diagnosed depression. A single episode can last anywhere from several months to well over a year.
As with other forms of depression, the faster you receive treatment after your first episode starts, the more likely you prevent any future episodes. This study in the Journal of Affective Disorders highlights the need for early treatment of patients in order to avoid remission.
Pre-natal depression occurs during pregnancy, and postnatal depression can develop anywhere up to a year after giving birth. Collectively, depression that’s related to pregnancy and birth is known as perinatal depression. This type of depression can get better over time, but it can develop into a long-term problem if you don’t get the help you need.
A study in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry says that in some cases of postnatal depression, symptoms are gone within 3 to 6 months of them starting. Gaining treatment and leaning on a support network of family and friends can see postnatal depression symptoms reduce within a few weeks.
Persistent depressive disorder (PDD)
Also known as dysthymia, PDD is diagnosed when someone’s depression symptoms have lasted at least 2 years. Symptoms tend to be less severe than other forms of depression, but it can still have a debilitating impact on your life.
Bipolar depression, formerly known as ‘manic depression’, involves someone’s mood switching between two states – mania (extreme highs) and depression (extreme lows). The length of each episode can vary widely, lasting anywhere from a week or 2 to much longer, in some cases. Within these episodes, symptoms of bipolar depression will occur every day, lasting most of the day.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
Seasonal affective disorder is characterised by feelings of sadness and other symptoms of depression during winter. It can be expected that episodes of SAD will only last as long as the winter, with your mood improving as the weather improves and you’re exposed to more daylight on a daily basis.
How long do different severities of depression last?
Severity is an important factor that likely has an impact on how long a person’s depression lasts. Remember that these are just general guides and that there is no exact answer to how long depression will last.
Mild presentations of depression often involve bouts of low mood and sadness, but any associated symptoms are less severe. In many cases, symptoms can go away on their own over time, especially if a stressful life event that caused your depression has eased.
However, that isn’t always the case. Some people with mild depression can live with symptoms for many months and even years. In these cases, they might be suffering from high-functioning depression, where you’re able to go about many of your daily responsibilities while experiencing symptoms.
Moderate forms of depression will have a greater impact on your life. Your performance at work might suffer as you struggle to concentrate, and your levels of worry, hopelessness, and other symptoms are likely to be more severe. Moderate depression can last up to 6 months, but this can be longer without appropriate treatment.
With severe depression, your ability to do anything beyond very basic tasks is severely limited. You’ll feel unhappy most of the time and might experience severe symptoms of depression, such as suicidal thoughts.
People with severe depression need professional support in order to see an improvement in their condition. Even with treatment, your depression is likely to last at least 6 months, but for many, it may stretch into years.
Does depression go away?
Depression is a serious condition that can have a profound effect on many aspects of your life. Ignoring your symptoms, or hoping that they’ll go away on their own, isn’t an effective way to cope with depression.
If you do find that your symptoms improve after a just a few days, it might be that you weren’t experiencing what might be clinically considered as depression. You might just have been experiencing sadness or a generally low mood – something we all experience from time-to-time.
Depression and sadness overlap in many areas, but there are clear distinctions between the two:
Overwhelms many aspects of your life
Is a natural human emotion we all experience
Will persist over weeks and months
Will pass, given time
Has many possible causes and triggers
Triggered by a life event you’ll usually be able to identify
Symptoms are psychological and physical in nature
Symptoms tend to be psychological/emotional only
How long do depressive episodes last?
Depression often comes in ‘episodes’. These can be compared to flare ups in physical conditions, where symptoms are especially heightened.
The length of these episodes can vary, but for those with diagnosed depression, these will tend to last more than 2 weeks. The regularity of these episodes can vary from person-to-person. While some people will only have one episode in their lifetime, many will have recurring episodes, stretching over many months and even years.
Episodes are more likely to become frequent if your depression is left untreated or if you fall into one of these risk factors identified by research in the Clinical Psychology Review.
- If there is a family history of the condition
- If you have another mental health condition
- If you have certain cognitions/personality traits
- If any stressful life events occur during/after recovery, this can increase the likelihood of future episodes
- If there is a lack of social support
How long does depression treatment take?
Depending on how severe your depression is, and how quickly you start to show any improvements in your mood and symptoms, treatment for depression can last anywhere from a few weeks to significantly longer.
For those with severe presentations of depression, the most effective treatment approach might be a residential, inpatient stay in a purpose built mental health hospital or other facility. Here, you can get away from the daily stresses that might be causing your depression and focus fully on your recovery. This type of treatment typically lasts between 14 to 28 days.
This might then be followed by a programme of therapy on an outpatient basis. Typically, a course of 10 to 15 hour-long sessions will result in a significant improvement in your mood, diminished symptoms, and renewed ability to go about your life. If these are taking place weekly, that would extend your course of depression treatment, totalling 12 to 19 weeks.
Those with less severe forms of depression might only require this programme of therapy in order to see an improvement in their condition, without the need for a residential stay beforehand.
In every case, treatment lengths depend on how each individual responds. There is no definitive timeframe for depression recovery so it’s important that you don’t put pressure on yourself to ‘bounce back’ quickly. For every individual with depression, treatment is outlined by a medical professional like your GP or consultant psychiatrist.
Today, there are many effective treatments for depression, helping people to complete a full recovery and regain control of their lives. At a private provider like Priory, you can benefit from world class facilities and experts to help you overcome depression. Use the information below to get in touch.
For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding mental health and wellbeing, please call 0330 056 6020 or submit an online enquiry form here.