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How long does depression last?

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How long it lastsRecovery timeOther typesTreatmentsSummary
Depression episodes can last 6–12 months without treatment. Your symptoms must be present for at least 2 weeks to meet the criteria for depression. But in a time of crisis, it’s important to reach out for help. 
Medically reviewed by Joshana K. Goga PharmD MBA BCPP
Written by Cathy Lovering
Updated on

Many people with a diagnosis of major depressive disorder (MDD) recover after treatment. But many will also see symptoms return in the future. You can often manage the condition well through medication and talk therapy.

MDD is just one type of depression. There are many other kinds that can affect you for different lengths of time. Examples include persistent depression disorder, bipolar depression, and postpartum depression.

There are several treatment options when living with depression, including psychotherapy and antidepressant medicines. Other therapies and self-care strategies can help with depression management.  

How long it lasts

Two friends hugging in the street, after discussing how long depression lasts.
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For a clinical diagnosis of MDD, a person must experience symptoms most of the day, almost every day, for at least 2 weeks. However, if your symptoms affect your work, health, or home life, or if you have thoughts of self-harm, it’s important not to wait to seek help, even if it’s been a shorter period of time. 

If a person has MDD, a depressive episode can last 6–12 months without treatment. About 50% of people who recover from a depressive episode have another episode in the future. 

Another type of depression, persistent depressive disorder, is when you have a continuing low mood that lasts at least 2 years. During this time, you might also experience episodes of MDD. Outside these episodes, your symptoms might be less severe, and you can go about your day-to-day life.

Symptoms of depression include:

  • persistent feelings of sadness or emptiness
  • feeling hopeless or pessimistic
  • irritability or restlessness
  • feeling guilty or worthless
  • loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • low energy or increase in fatigue
  • problems concentrating
  • difficulty sleeping
  • appetite changes or weight changes
  • physical pain with no apparent cause
  • thoughts of death or suicide

You do not have to experience all of these to experience a depressive episode or to receive a diagnosis of depression. A professional can help assess your symptoms and how to treat them.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide or self-harm, please seek support:

While you wait for help to arrive, stay with someone and remove any weapons or substances that can cause harm. You are not alone.

Factors that can affect recovery time

Depression is a treatable condition, even when it is severe. Treatments are most effective when they start early, but recovery is possible even if you’ve lived with depression for some time. 

People with depression can also experience other medical conditions like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease at the same time. When you’re living with depression and another condition, the symptoms of each can be more severe. This may affect your recovery time from depression or other illnesses, like cancer.

You might also have risk factors for depression, like a family history of the condition, as well as life changes, trauma, and stress. These can all affect your unique experience with depression, as no two people have depression the same way. 

Other types of depression

In addition to MDD and persistent depressive disorder, there are several other types of depression.

Postpartum depression occurs in the weeks or months after childbirth. Symptoms include anxiety, sadness, and fatigue, which makes it challenging for the new parent to care for themselves or their child after giving birth.

The symptoms of postpartum depression often go away or lessen with time, but some people may still experience it years after birth. Treatment can improve outcomes for both the parent and their child.

Seasonal affective disorder is connected to seasonal changes and usually happens during the fall and winter months. It typically lasts for a few months, often improving after winter, but it is likely to return the following year.

Episodes of major depression can also occur in people who have bipolar disorder. These depressive episodes usually last about 2 weeks.


Depression is a highly treatable condition. Treatment typically consists of a combination of talk therapy and medication.

Medications for MDD include:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): These include fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), and escitalopram (Lexapro).
  • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs): Examples are venlafaxine (Effexor XR) and duloxetine (Cymbalta).
  • Serotonin modulators: These include trazodone (Oleptro) and vortioxetine (Trintellix).
  • Atypical antidepressants: Examples are bupropion (Wellbutrin) and mirtazapine (Remeron).
  • Tricyclic antidepressants: These include desipramine (Norpramin) and imipramine (Tofranil).
  • Atypical antipsychotics: Examples are cariprazine (Vraylar). A doctor will usually prescribe these alongside a main treatment of antidepressants.

As well as clinical treatments, self-care strategies can help with managing your depression. These include taking steps to reduce stress, such as meditation and tai chi, healthy eating, regular exercise, and getting enough sleep. 

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Depression generally has to last at least 2 weeks for you to receive a clinical diagnosis. But remember that if you are in a crisis or find it difficult to function, it’s important to reach out for help sooner. 

Untreated episodes of MDD can last 6–12 months. Treatments for depression are most effective when started early, but it’s never too late to get help. You’re not alone, and there are professionals out there who can support you.

Download the free Optum Perks Discount Card to save up to 80% on some prescription medications.

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