Depression is a serious mental illness that impacts millions of people each year. Most people know it as clinical depression, or by its more technical term, major depression. But whatever you call it, it’s known by its singular feature — a serious, depressed mood characterized by hopelessness, lethargy, lack of energy, sleep disruption, and a feeling like there is nothing to be done that can make things better.
These feelings aren’t just a passing mood that goes away in a few days on its own. Instead, they stay with a person for weeks on end (at least two weeks, in order it to be diagnosed). The symptoms of depression don’t just develop out of the blue, either. They usually come on a person over the course of several weeks, a little bit at a time. It can be insidious in the subtle way that depression starts to overtake a person’s life. Some people even suffer for months from mild symptoms before it becomes full-blown depression.
When left untreated, clinical depression can last for over a year, with 40 to 50 percent of individuals still having symptoms sufficient to meet the diagnosis after one year.
More than 85 to 90 percent of people with depression can be treated effectively. In most cases, an individual eventually will experience a complete remission of symptoms. However, approximately 25 percent to 33 percent of those untreated will continue to have some symptoms and associated difficulty with daily life that can linger for months or years.
Even though most people can be helped by depression treatment, effective depression treatment can take months to get right. Different antidepressant medications may need to be tried and discarded until the one that works for a person is discovered. The dose may also need to be adjusted until just the right dose is found that alleviates depressive symptoms while not increasing unwanted side effects.
Some people may have only a single episode of depression. However, more than 50 percent of those affected will experience another episode. This is called recurrent depression. Left untreated, this represents a chronic disease, with each episode increasing the risk for another bout of the disease. More than 70 percent of those who have two episodes can expect to have a third, while 90 percent of individuals experiencing three episodes will have a fourth episode.
The most effective type of treatment for almost all types of depression typically consists of a combination of medication and psychotherapy. Either treatment on its own is about as half as effective than when the two treatments are combined. That means that if you’re only taking antidepressants, or are only in psychotherapy, it will generally take you twice as long to feel relief from your depressive symptoms.
In the most severe and chronic cases of depression, treatment may also include electroconvulsive therapy or hospitalization. You should talk to your mental health professional about the pros and cons of these kinds of treatments, as they may carry longer-term side effects.
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