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What are the stages of depression?

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Stages of griefStages of depressionTreatment for depressionPreventionWhen to contact a doctor?Summary
Depression is a common mental health condition that many people experience at some point in their lives. Some studies show depression may have different stages, similar to grief.
Medically reviewed by Yalda Safai, MD, MPH
Updated on

Depression affects millions of people worldwide. It is a condition that many will experience at some point in their life.

There are several different types of depression, and each one may cause specific symptoms. The condition can result from an upsetting or stressful life event, such as:

  • losing a loved one
  • divorce
  • receiving a health diagnosis

Several treatment methods can help you manage depression symptoms, such as medication and talk therapy.

Stages of grief

Person sitting in a therapist's office as the therapist takes notes.
Photography by Lithiumcloud/Getty Images

Some suggest depression may occur in stages similar to the 5 stages of grief, also known as DABDA. While no scientific evidence supports this theory, it can make understanding the condition’s progression easier for some people. About 1 in 6 people will experience the condition at some point in their lives.

The 5 stages of DABDA include:

  • Denial: Some people may reject their reality as a response to stressful life events. It is common to have a period of denial while processing new and upsetting information. The duration can vary among people.
  • Anger: People may experience anger after they stop denying their reality. It can cause you to direct the blame on a specific person or group, or it could be generalized and undirected. The symptoms a person may experience during this stage include:
    • avoiding social interactions
    • feeling tearful
  • Bargaining: At this stage, people may often seek to have some control over their situation. The symptoms of this stage may include feeling helpless and finding it difficult to make decisions.
  • Depression: This may develop immediately or occur after the first 3 stages. Depression is a common mental health condition.
  • Acceptance: This is typically the last stage of grief, where people with depression no longer protest against the upsetting life event that has occurred. However, people may still need emotional support during this stage.

Stages of depression

 A 2017 staged model of depression suggests that there are 4 parts of the condition:

  • Wellness: This stage usually includes the absence of distressing emotional experiences.
  • Distress: This next involves mild to moderate distressing emotional experiences, that tend to last for a short period of time.
  • Depressive disorder: The third stage revolves around severe distressing emotional experiences and lasts between 2 and 4 weeks. It may also impair your social functioning. 
  • Refractory or recurrent depressive disorder: The final stage involves depression that is unresponsive to treatment interventions. It may also feature recurrent relapse episodes.

If you are experiencing depression symptoms, consider speaking with a healthcare professional. They can work with you to put together a treatment plan.

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Treatment for depression

Several treatment methods can help you manage depression symptoms. A healthcare professional may suggest the following:

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Healthcare professionals may recommend medications for treating depression, such as:

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Talk therapy

A healthcare professional may recommend you undergo talk therapy to help you manage symptoms.

Examples include:

  • cognitive behavioral therapy can help you gain the tools needed to manage your symptoms
  • psychodynamic therapy involves looking at each aspect of your life to find out what may be causing your depression symptoms
  • counseling can help you understand your depression as well as your feelings surrounding particular life events

Often, a doctor may suggest a combination of medication and talk therapy. Although, this depends on the severity of your symptoms.


Certain lifestyle measures may help you cope with depression and reduce its symptoms, including:

  • practicing meditation, yoga, or physical exercise
  • reaching out to friends and loved ones
  • getting enough hours of sleep
  • learning more about your condition
  • developing coping skills to manage stress easily

If you have any concerns about your mental health, doctors can recommend ways to prevent or improve your symptoms.

When should you speak with a doctor?

If you are concerned that you have symptoms of depression, consider speaking with a healthcare professional. They can suggest a treatment plan to help. It’s also important to know that not all people who have depression are aware of it.

The symptoms of depression can vary for everyone. You should contact a doctor if you experience the following:

  • having no motivation or little interest in activities
  • having low self-esteem
  • unexplained aches and pains
  • fatigue
  • feeling anxious
  • loss of libido
  • thoughts of harming yourself
  • suicidal thoughts 

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.


Some people believe that depression occurs in stages, similar to the 5 stages of grief. The severity of symptoms increases during each stage of depression and the readiness of the person with depression to seek medical help. However, there is no scientific evidence to support this theory.

You should speak with your doctor if you notice any changes in mood affecting your day-to-day life, regardless of the stage or the severity of the symptoms you experience.

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