If you’re living with depression, you might wonder how long your symptoms will last and if they will go away on their own.
Because every person’s experience with the condition is different, there is no average duration for depression symptoms.
In other words, how long depression lasts depends on a combination of factors.
From a clinical perspective, symptoms of depression must be present for at least two weeks for a mental health professional to reach a diagnosis.
Sometimes, depression symptoms will last for only a few weeks. For many people though, untreated depression could last months and even years.
Regardless of how long you’ve experienced depression, the condition is treatable. In fact, seeking the support of a professional often helps symptoms resolve much sooner.
Depression affects everyone differently.
Even though there are a few established symptoms of the condition, not everyone experiences them in the same way.
For some people, depression symptoms are persistent over the years. For others, symptoms will come and go at times.
But this is not always the case. Because there are different types of depression, symptom duration varies greatly.
For example, a depressive episode caused by mourning might last a few days or weeks and often resolves on its own.
In most cases, however, depression requires the support of a health professional.
There are many types of depression, and the type you’re experiencing may impact how long or intense your symptoms are.
Major depressive disorder (MDD)
Also known as clinical depression, major depressive disorder (MDD) is what most people refer to when talking about depression.
Symptoms of clinical depression include low mood, loss of interest in daily activities, lack of energy, and feelings of low self-worth.
Some people experience clinical depression only once in their life, while others have recurring episodes.
MDD episodes can last between 6 and 18 months or longer.
If you start treatment soon after you experience the first symptoms, you might be
Persistent depressive disorder (PDD)
When your depression symptoms last for 2 years or longer, you are likely to receive a diagnosis of persistent depressive disorder.
Sometimes called dysthymia, PDD is a chronic condition that generally involves less severe — but longer-lasting — symptoms than clinical depression.
When you live with PDD, you may have low energy levels or feel unmotivated and disengaged from life at times. You may also deal with pessimism and a poor self-image.
Some people with PDD have experienced a major loss, while others experience the condition due to being under chronic stress.
Because symptoms are often not as severe as those of other types of depression, they can sometimes go undetected.
This has led some people to call this condition “high-functioning depression,” which is actually not a formal diagnosis.
In some cases, PDD lasts so long that you may believe its symptoms are just part of who you are.
Health professionals often use a combination of psychotherapy and antidepressants to treat PDD. This combination approach may be more successful at reducing the severity of your symptoms than using either treatment independently.
Perinatal/postpartum depression (PPD)
Perinatal depression occurs during pregnancy or after giving birth.
People with perinatal depression may experience feelings of anxiety, sadness, and fatigue that make it hard for them to care for themselves or others.
Postpartum depression may occur right after the birth of a child or up to a year later.
Postpartum depression can last a few weeks or may develop into a major depressive disorder. This depends on many factors, but not getting treatment for symptoms is one of the most important ones.
A 2014 literature review indicated that postpartum depression symptoms may improve over time, with some cases resolving 3 to 6 months after onset.
The same review suggests that some people may still experience these symptoms beyond the 6-month mark and could live with lingering symptoms for over a year.
In addition to treatment, having support from family and friends can shorten the duration of perinatal depressions.
Seasonal affective disorder
If you’ve noticed changes in your mood and energy levels when the seasons change, you might have had seasonal affective disorder.
In fact, symptoms of this type of mood disorder may come and go with the seasons.
Consequently, seasonal affective disorder typically lasts between 4 and 5 months.
For most people, this disorder involves symptoms that start in the late fall and end in the spring.
However, some people experience seasonal affective disorder during the summer months too.
Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that may cause changes in mood that range from extreme highs (mania) to lows (depression).
Bipolar depression is a term used for someone who experiences low mood episodes related to bipolar disorder.
The duration of a mood episode in bipolar disorder varies widely, with some
In fact, depressive episodes tend to last longer than manic episodes in people with bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition, but you can manage the condition and live a healthy life with ongoing treatment and support. This includes managing your symptoms so episodes of depression don’t last as long.
The cause of your depression symptoms might also affect how long they last if they go untreated.
In most depression cases, seeking the support of a health professional can shorten the duration and intensity of your symptoms.
There are several causes of depression, ranging from genetic to environmental. Common causes include:
Brain scansindicate that some people with depression have a smaller hippocampus and/or less active frontal lobe. However, scientists don’t yet know if this causes depression or is a result of it.
- Drug use. A history of substance use disorder may lead to depressive disorders.
- Hormone changes. Menstrual cycles, pregnancy, and giving birth can lead to depression. In some of these cases, symptoms will subside or improve when the root cause is addressed.
- Environment. Exposure to traumatic events, social isolation, prolonged stress, and poverty can make some people more vulnerable to long-term or recurrent depressive episodes.
- Family history. Depression can run in families. You might have a higher chance of developing the condition if your family members live with the condition.
- Medications. Blood pressure medication and sleeping aids may lead to symptoms of depression that will last for the duration of your treatment.
- Psychology. If you worry a lot, have low self-esteem, or are self-critical and negative, you may experience recurrent depressive symptoms.
- Other health conditions. Chronic health conditions and the stress and worry that comes with coping with them can lead to depression, especially if you’re dealing with chronic pain.
Not everyone experiences depression symptoms with the same intensity. Experts don’t yet know exactly why intensity varies among people, but they suspect a combination of factors may be at play.
Intensity of depression symptoms is classified as:
You may have low mood and other signs of depression, but the overall symptoms are less intense or intrusive. In some cases, these symptoms may go away on their own after a short period of time.
This is not always the case, though. Some people may experience pervasive mild depression that can last for months or years.
You may struggle to focus, worry more often, and have reduced productivity with moderate depression. Without medication and psychotherapy, moderate depression could last for 6 months or longer.
Daily functioning beyond the basics is a struggle with severe depression. You may struggle to get out of bed, have suicidal thoughts, and in some cases, experience hallucinations. Severe depression can last 6 months or longer.
Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your healthcare provider may recommend a combination of therapies to help treat your depression.
It’s hard to predict how long your depression symptoms will last.
Though there is no “cure” for depression, it is treatable and symptoms can be managed.
Untreated depression can be debilitating, and while in some cases your depression may go away on its own without treatment, things may get worse before they get better.
In some instances, untreated depression can lead to more severe symptoms — other mental health problems may arise, or your symptoms may become more severe.
Professionals recommend you seek treatment when you first notice the symptoms of depression.
Seeking the support of a professional can make a big difference in how long your depression lasts and in preventing future episodes.
Depression can be treated with:
- Medication. Antidepressants are commonly prescribed to treat depression. You might want to discuss the options and side effects with your healthcare provider.
- Therapy. Counseling is often helpful for people with depression. Options include:
- interpersonal therapy (IPT)
- cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
- mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)
- Brain stimulation therapy. This therapy may include electroconvulsive therapy or transcranial magnetic stimulation to help you manage the chronic symptoms of depression.
Each person’s recovery will look different. The earlier you begin treatment, the more effective it might be.
Living with symptoms of depression can affect the way you see yourself, others, and the world around you.
Self-care can make a difference, though.
Consider these tips:
- Avoid drugs and alcohol.
- Be kind to yourself. You’re doing the best you can with the resources you have.
- Eat healthy, nutritious foods. Eating well may help improve your physical and mental health.
- Get exercise and fresh air. Getting out of the house for a walk can reduce feelings of isolation and boost your endorphins (mood hormones.)
- Talk to a family member or trusted friend. Having support from someone who cares can help you feel less alone in your struggles.
- Sleep well. Getting enough sleep can be restorative for both your body and mind.
- Treat yourself. Do something you enjoy each day — take a bubble bath, read a book, listen to your favorite music.
Remember that different things work for different people. You may want to try some of these tips and see which ones work for you. You can also come up with your own ideas based on your likes and interests.
If you wonder how long depression lasts, you have already taken the first step towards shortening its duration.
You may also want to check out the following resources:
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America. This organization works to improve the quality of life of those affected by depression and anxiety-related disorders. They provide educational webinars and can help you find a support group near you.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Division of Mental Health. This is an
excellent sourceof public health information on mental health.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). This is a large, grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for Americans affected by mental illness. NAMI has a helpline staffed with trained volunteers to help answer questions, offer support, and provide practical next steps. Call 800-950-NAMI (6264) to speak with someone.
- Postpartum Support International. This organization works to increase awareness about the emotional changes people experience during pregnancy and postpartum.
If you’re considering self-harm or suicide, you’re not alone. Help is available right now:
- Call a crisis hotline, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
- Text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.