Can Depression Go Away on Its Own?

Why Waiting It Out Usually Doesn't Work

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Many people with clinical depression wonder if their symptoms will go away on their own with time. The old adage "time heals all wounds" may have some truth behind it, but it's no cure for depression. Depression brings on feelings of hopelessness and helplessness that interfere with every aspect of a person's life including work, productivity, and relationships—and it cannot be willed away or waited out.

If you have been diagnosed with depression, you need to get proper treatment in order to get better. You should not suffer needlessly when depression is a highly treatable illness. In fact, between 80 and 90 percent of people who get treatment feel better. Treatment usually includes medication, therapy, or a combination of the two.

Understanding Depression

Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a chronic condition that can ebb and flow throughout a person's lifetime. While it is possible that an individual episode of depression may go away on its own without treatment, there is no guarantee that things won't get worse before they get better.

This is why prompt treatment at the first signs of the illness, with continued maintenance treatment in order to prevent relapse, is the best course of action to take.

The American Psychiatric Association recommends that, after you have achieved remission from your first episode of depression, you should continue to take your current medication for at least four to nine months.

If you experience a repeat episode, the recommendation gets bumped up to an even longer length of time, with some people being advised to remain on medication indefinitely.

Why Treatment Is Key

While many medications, such as antibiotics, actually cure the illnesses they are designed to treat, antidepressants do not cure depression. They only correct the underlying chemical imbalance for as long as a person is taking them.

Even though a particular episode of depression may pass, this does not mean that a person's depression has been cured. The underlying vulnerability is always there, waiting to be triggered by the right set of circumstances.

Untreated depression can be extremely debilitating to an individual, interfering with every part of life. In addition, severe depression can potentially lead to suicide if it does not receive immediate attention.

Depression has been linked to a variety of illnesses including heart disease, obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, and other chronic disorders. In the case of heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes, depression may accelerate the progression of the disease.

Having depression can make it more difficult to treat other medical illnesses because of the lack of motivation and energy associated with depression make it more difficult for patients to comply with their treatment regimens.

The other concern about depression is that it tends to be recurrent. 

Current evidence suggests that someone who has had one episode of depression has a 50 percent risk of another. With each additional episode, this risk rises, increasing to 70 percent after a second episode and 90 percent after the third.

Treatment Options

Depression is quite treatable so there is no need to "buck up" and suffer through an episode. While it might seem heroic to tough it out, it is not necessary and in fact, it is dangerous to your health.

That said, self-care, such as sleeping well, eating well, and not abusing alcohol or drugs to cope can absolutely help you feel better faster. Many people with depression, however, understandably struggle with self-care during episodes.

Getting the appropriate treatment can shorten the length and severity of the episode. Antidepressants can start to relieve the symptoms of depression in as little as two to four weeks before the illness has time to linger and possibly grow worse.

According to research from the University of South Australia, the average duration of antidepressant treatment is two years in people under 24 years, three years in people 35 to 44, and up to five years 55 to 64.

A Word From Verywell

While it's not impossible that a particular episode of depression will go away on its own if given enough time, there are some very compelling and important reasons why a person should not hesitate to get professional help. Timely and adequate treatment should always be the goal when someone presents with symptoms of depression.

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Article Sources

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  1. American Psychiatric Association. What Is Depression? Published January 2017.

  2. Preventing recurrent depression: long-term treatment for major depressive disorder. Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry. 2007;9(3):214-23.

  3. Dhar AK, Barton DA. Depression and the Link with Cardiovascular Disease. Front Psychiatry. 2016;7:33. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2016.00033

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