Depression - Outlook

Different levels of depression

Some people may have one or two episodes of depression and then experience no more symptoms, while for others depression can recur over a period of many years. Evidence shows that 80% of people who suffer from a major depressive episode will suffer from at least 1 more during their lifetime [1] and may have a lifetime average of 4 episodes. [2]

Life events or 'no apparent reason'?

If depression has been triggered by a single life-changing event, for example unemployment or bereavement, there can be a relief of symptoms after a period of time as the person adjusts to their changed circumstances. However, for some people who experience recurrent depression for no apparent reason, they may feel that their lives have been taken over by the illness.

The chances of experiencing recurrent depression are higher if symptoms have not been resolved in full after a course of treatment. Preventing relapse using antidepressant medication has been shown to be effective and current guidelines recommend taking medication for between four to six months after symptoms have resolved in order to prevent depression recurring. Evidence shows that continuing antidepressant medication for a period after recovery reduces the chance of relapse by up to 70%.[3]

If left untreated

If left unacknowledged and untreated, it is very likely that depression won't go away by itself, and very often people find that untreated depression gets worse with time. It is important to remember that depression is a serious illness. There is some evidence to show that people with recurrent depression have a shorter life expectancy than those without. People with depression are at higher risk of dying by suicide[4] and research now suggests that depression also increases the chances of dying from other medical conditions including heart disease.[5,6]

Taking steps towards treatment for depression can be very difficult, as it requires that the person must first recognize and acknowledge that their symptoms have been caused by depression. However once steps have been taken to get treatment, using one or a combination of treatment approaches, there is good evidence to show that recovery is possible.[7] For some people living with depression, this involves making changes to and managing their lifestyle so that their depression will not recur or is easier to manage if it does.


  1. Fava GA, Park SK, Sonino N. Treatment of recurrent depression.. Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics. 2006;6(11):1735-1740. doi:10.1586/14737175.6.11.1735.PMID 17144786.
  2. Limosin F, Mekaoui L, Hautecouverture S. Stratégies thérapeutiques prophylactiques dans la dépression unipolaire [Prophylactic treatment for recurrent major depression]. La Presse Médicale. 2007;36(11-C2):1627-1633
  3. Geddes JR, Carney SM, Davies C. Relapse prevention with antidepressant drug treatment in depressive disorders: A systematic review. Lancet. 2003;361(9358):653-61.
  4. Cassano P, Fava M.  Depression and public health: an overview. J Psychosom Res. 2002;53(4):849-57
  5. Rush AJ. The varied clinical presentations of major depressive disorder. The Journal of clinical psychiatry. 2007;68(Supplement 8):4-10.
  6. Alboni P, Favaron E, Paparella N, Sciammarella M, Pedaci M. Is there an association between depression and cardiovascular mortality or sudden death?.Journal of cardiovascular medicine (Hagerstown, Md.). 2008;9
  7. Barrett, J. E., Williams, J. W. J., Oxman, T. E., et al (2001) Treatment of dysthymia and minor depression in primary care, a randomized trial in patients aged 18 to 59 years. Journal of Family Practice, 50, 405-412