Can Depression Go Away on Its Own?

Why Waiting It Out Usually Doesn't Work

Why Seek Professional Treatment for Depression?

Verywell / Cindy Chung 

Many people with clinical depression wonder if their symptoms will go away on their own with time. Many say that "time heals all wounds," but that's not entirely true when it comes to depression. Depression is a serious mental illness that 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% 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. That is why it is important to seek immediate treatment at the first signs of depression.

The American Psychiatric Association guidelines state that once successfully treated with antidepressant medications, treatment should be continued for four to nine months in those whose first episode of MDD was not associated with suicidality. Only those with chronic or recurrent depression should consider continuing the drugs to prevent relapse.

Despite these guidelines, data show that many stay on antidepressants much longer than recommended. 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.

Why Treatment Is Important

While many medications, such as antibiotics, cure the illnesses they are designed to treat, antidepressants do not cure depression. Their effect is only temporary.

Antidepressants correct the underlying chemical imbalance, but only for as long as the person is taking them. When you stop taking the antidepressant, your brain chemistry returns to its previous state, just waiting to be triggered by the right set of circumstances. That's because antidepressants do not address the underlying causes of your depression.

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 also been linked to a variety of physical health issues, 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% risk of another. With each additional episode, this risk rises, increasing to 70% after a second episode and 90% after the third.

Treatment Options

While not "curable," depression is quite treatable so there is no need to "buck up" and struggle through a depressive episode. While it might seem heroic to tough it out, it is not necessary, and in fact, it is dangerous to your health.

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.

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

If you or a loved one are struggling with depression, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area. 

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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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  4. 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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