Depression is a serious mood disorder characterized by a low mood (i.e., sadness). Those affected by depression may wonder, how long depression lasts. Every case is different, but on average, a depressive episode can last several months. For some people, an episode may be shorter or much longer. If left untreated, depression can become long-lasting or chronic. It is important for individuals with depression to seek treatment as soon as possible.

Risk Factors for Recurrent Depressive Episodes

Risk factors for depression can include a combination of genetic and environmental factors as well as personal experiences, like stressful events or trauma.

  • Some examples of risk factors for recurrent depressive episodes:

    • How old the person was when they had their first depressive episode
    • The severity of the first depressive episode
    • The presence of other mental health problems
    • Family history of depression
    • The presence of stressful life events

There is no average duration for major depressive disorder as a whole since every person’s experience and response to treatment is different. Depressive events must last at least two weeks to meet the diagnostic criteria to qualify as a depressive episode.

Studies found that the average duration of a major depressive episode is between three or four months, while other research has estimated that the average duration is 6 to 10.7 months.

Can Depression Go Away on Its Own?

Does depression last forever, or will it go away after a while? Depression is a serious mental illness and is unlikely to go away or cure itself. Without treatment, depression can last for years or decades and can worsen over time.

For people concerned about whether their depression will ever go away, it’s important to reach out and seek professional treatment. Getting treatment can help shorten a depressive episode and reduce the risk of future episodes occurring. Receiving treatment like medication or cognitive behavioral therapy can lead to an improvement in a matter of weeks.

Managing Chronic Depression

Chronic depression can be severe. If left untreated, chronic depression can worsen physical and mental health and increase the risk of suicidal thoughts. Chronic depression can last a long time — up to decades — but can be improved through adequate management or treatment. Managing chronic depression may vary slightly from person to person.

  • Common ways to manage chronic depression:

    • Medication
    • Therapy (cognitive behavioral therapy or counseling)
    • Self-care
    • Healthy behaviors like eating well, exercising and getting enough sleep

Research has shown that combining medication and therapy leads to quicker remission of chronic depression than either approach on its own. In more severe or treatment-resistant cases, treatments like deep brain stimulation might be an option.

Why Treatment is Key

Getting help for depression can improve health and level of functioning. Treatment can also reduce the amount of time that depression lasts along with reducing the severity of symptoms and the risk of recurrence.

There is no single effective treatment for depression and the success rate of each treatment varies from person to person. Some people might respond well to medication, while others may see more improvements through therapy. Successful treatment for depression may require trying several different options.

Depression is serious and can impact every aspect of a person’s life. However, depression is treatable and there is hope for recovery.