Depression is one of the most prevalent mental health conditions that affect many individuals worldwide. Its signs can often be hidden, even when someone has been struggling with this disorder for a prolonged period of time. Depression doesn’t only entail a persistent feeling of sadness and hopelessness – it affects one’s eating and sleeping patterns and social relationships, decreases cognitive performance, and diminishes drive and motivation.
However, most people don’t know how long they have to deal with depressive symptoms. Due to the complex causes of depression, many ask themselves, “how long does depression last?” in different ways.
Everyone must be educated about what precedes a depressive episode and its severity signs, as these can often predict how long depression will last. For example, some people ask themselves, “how long does depression last in bipolar people?” or “how long postnatal does depression last?” These answers might be significantly different from depression episodes encountered after having a baby, after divorce, or after a breakup. Conversely, if you ask yourself, “how long does depression last with treatment?” you might be surprised to see what therapy for depression can do for you.
The Cause of Depression and Its Duration
Interpersonal causes of depression can be linked to interpersonal relationship problems. For example, studies show that 30% of spouses diagnosed as clinically depressed report significant marriage problems, such as hostility, friction, and lack of affection. Personal distress can also be caused by a change in the dynamics of one’s family, such as having a new child or losing a family member.
Many people find it difficult to build a relationship with a newborn child or accept the situation when someone moves out of the family. In these cases, depression symptoms can last as long as the individual struggles to accept the new changes in their family dynamic. Processing these shifts can be done successfully with a trained mental health professional, such as a therapist or counselor.
Research shows that depression involves significant changes in the brain’s biology. Hence why antidepressant treatments are effective in treating a major depressive disorder. They target the inflammation in the brain and lead to immune system activation.
Changes in the endocrine system
Biological causes of depression also involve significant changes in the endocrine system, which increases a stress hormone called cortisol. Studies reported that depressed patients have a steady increase in this stress hormone, which may explain their mood changes.
It is well-known that depression develops due to a complex interaction between a number of genetic and environmental factors. In many cases, depression can occur due to genetic imprints that result in an altered functioning of key neurotransmitters such as serotonin and cortisol and the impaired function of hormones and growth factors.
Alterations in brain structures
Typical depression symptoms – such as mood changes and cognition – may result from structural changes in the brain. Studies indicate that depressed patients show significant changes in brain areas responsible for emotional regulation, thinking, decision-making, and sleeping.
The Type of Depression and Its Duration
The duration of a depression episode or diagnosis can also depend on the type of disorder someone has. For example, major depression disorder (MDD) will last longer than a depressive episode caused by having a baby. However, this is not necessarily a rule of thumb. This is why it is tremendously important to seek the support of a therapist who knows the underlying complexity of depression.
Major depressive disorder
This depression type manifests in ongoing and persistent sadness and mood changes that don’t simply go away with lifestyle changes. It requires the careful monitoring of a mental health professional. Treatment might be provided in the form of medication and psychotherapy, with research showing that best results come as a combination of both approaches.
Seasonal affective disorder
This type of depression is mainly caused by changes in the seasons. It usually starts and ends at approximately the same time each year, which makes it somewhat predictable. Seasonal depression might last shorter than other forms of depression due to its reliance on seasonal changes. A therapist can support people suffering from it to recognize the first signs of a seasonal affective disorder and seek help at the right time.
Mostly caused by the event of having a baby, this type of depression can be explained in terms of hormonal and chemical changes in the mother. Added to this is also the new family dynamic and the increased pressure and vulnerability of having to look after a baby. Postnatal depression usually lasts for several weeks or months, but its symptoms can be reduced when the mother seeks mental support at the right time.
The Severity of Depression and Its Duration
Answers to questions like ‘how long does depression last?’ or ‘how long can depression last?’ depend on the severity of depression. For example, someone with severe depression will take longer to recover than someone who only experiences mild symptoms.
Mild depression usually manifests in changes in mood and loss of interest in previously enjoyed things. Many people can improve their symptoms with counseling and adequate lifestyle changes at this stage.
When depression starts to become moderate, it may also impact sleeping and eating patterns besides changes in effect. Lastly, when symptoms indicate severe depression, individuals might struggle to function properly and withdraw from their social circle, professional responsibilities, and hobbies. Some people can also start having suicide ideation at this stage, and therapeutic support becomes a must.
Can Depression Go Away on Its Own?
Unfortunately, due to its complexity and the unique way it manifests in each person, depression must be treated with therapy or other interventions. The most efficient treatment options supported by research are:
Depression is not limited to emotional dysregulation and decreased well-being. According to the medical model of mental disorders, disturbances in normal functioning are caused by a cluster of different causes, such as changes in the activity of key chemicals in the brain. Patients diagnosed with mental illness often display impaired cognitive functioning and changes in their mental well-being.
Medication is a highly effective tool in the treatment of mental disorders because it targets the biological aspects of mental illness and addresses abnormal neurotransmitter functioning. For example, depression is associated with abnormal brain chemistry and impaired functioning of key neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Medication aims to regulate this imbalance and alleviate symptoms in order for the individual to engage in other types of treatment, such as psychotherapy.
Social life also plays a pivotal role in mental well-being. People who lack the feeling of belonging to a social group or who do not benefit from social support are more likely to experience depression due to isolation. This is why people with symptoms of depression are found in studies to show low engagement in social activities, to have fewer social relationships, network contacts, and family ties.
People who lack social resources also have fewer adaptive coping mechanisms; specifically, having social connections allows someone to manage their worries and avoid overwhelming feelings. Therefore, having adequate social support can significantly lead to a reduction in depressive symptoms and faster recovery.
Psychotherapy remains one of the most effective treatment options for depression. Countless studies validate its efficiency in getting to the roots of its causes and designing a recovery plan. When seeking therapeutic support for depression, you will be supported to uncover the underlying causes of your symptoms, as well as how this affects you on an emotional, cognitive, and behavioral level.
During the course of psychotherapy, you will be supported by a caring, empathetic, and supportive therapist who will help you replace negative thoughts that lead to depression with more adaptive ones.
A technique used by psychotherapists when working with depressed patients is behavioral activation. This involves motivating the patient to engage in an activity that temporarily relieves their depressive symptoms. Regardless of the cause of depression, psychotherapy can help you enjoy life again and overcome even the most stubborn symptoms. If having the time to attend a therapy session is a major concern for you, know that there is now the option of online therapy that can be done from the comfort of your home.
Depression is a serious mental illness that affects how someone feels, thinks, and behaves. Due to its complexity, it must be treated in time to prevent it from turning into chronic depression. The good news is that there are now multiple treatment options available, such as online therapy, online counseling, and medication.