Depression Recovery: How to Know You're Making Progress

Depression Getting Better
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As you begin treatment for depression, it may take a bit of time for you to feel like you're back to your normal self. If your progress is slow, it's natural to question whether you're really improving. Your doctor can help you set some goals to use as benchmarks and assess your progress.

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Signs of Recovery From Depression

There are a few things you can look at to better understand whether you are on the road to recovery.

Improving Symptoms

Do you notice that you don't feel sad as often or that you are having fewer bouts of anger? Maybe it feels like you're thinking more clearly, your appetite has returned, or you don't feel as tired. If your symptoms of depression are improving, this is a positive sign.

If you have a difficult time recognizing changes in your symptoms, ask your doctor, counselor, or therapist. They may notice that you seem less irritable or appear to have more energy during your visits. Sometimes it's hard to see these things ourselves.

Improved Daily Function

If you're having an easier time functioning in your daily activities, this is another good indicator that you're progressing. This may include noticing that you find it less difficult to:

You may find it helpful to set small daily goals, such as missing fewer days at work or taking a shower every day.

Limited Relapses

Another important goal of depression treatment is to reduce your chances of having future episodes of depression. If your symptoms remain under control over time, this is an important indicator that you're getting better.

One way to help achieve this goal is with healthy changes to your lifestyle. Although depression is an illness with a biological basis, the way you live your life can potentially increase your stress and trigger a relapse in your condition.

Living a healthy lifestyle, minimizing stress, and improving how you relate to others can help keep your depression from reoccurring.

How to Track Your Progress

In addition to working closely with your doctor, there are a few actions you can take to keep an eye on your progress.

Keep a Journal

Journaling is an easy and effective way to track your symptoms over time, explore your emotions, and manage your feelings. Try using a journal to record your symptoms, your experience with medication, and self-help strategies.

For example, you can use your journal to record what type of activity you tried, such as exercise, meditation, or listening to your favorite music. Also write down how you felt before and after, noting what you like or didn’t like.

You may want to consider sharing your journal entries with your mental health care professional. They may be able to help you identify whether your medication should be adjusted or if you should try a different treatment approach.

Take Symptom Questionnaires

Another way to track your progress is to periodically take a test like the Wakefield Questionnaire, which asks a series of questions about your depression symptoms and then provides you with a numerical score. The Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) and Beck's Depression Inventory (BDI) are a few similar options.

By comparing changes in your scores over time, you can see objectively whether your symptoms are indeed improving. Maybe they are appearing less often or feel less intense. These can both be signs that your treatment is working and your depression is getting better.

Monitor Changes in Medication

How long you need to take antidepressants depends on how well they work and whether you're at risk of a relapse. As you begin to feel better, your doctor may decide to reduce your medication dosage or take you off it completely. This is a positive sign that you're making progress.

Another medication-related sign to look for is if you're having fewer side effects with your antidepressant or if they are less severe. Or maybe you've found a way to work them into your life so the effects aren't so bothersome, such as taking them at morning versus night or vice versa. All of these changes are steps in the right direction.

If your antidepressant is making you feel worse or causing side effects that are impacting your quality of life, speak to your doctor. Sometimes a change in medication is all you need to start feeling better.

It may take time, but with the right combination of treatment, support, and lifestyle habits, you can feel like your old self again.

Depression Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide to help you ask the right questions at your next doctor's appointment.

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Depression Symptoms to Look For

If you have feelings of depression that don't seem to be getting better, or are getting worse, talk to your doctor. Your treatment plan may need to be changed. Here are a few common symptoms of depression to watch for:

  • Crying for no apparent reason
  • Difficulty concentrating or staying focused
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Feeling sad, worthless, and/or having guilt
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Having difficulty doing normal daily activities
  • Irritability
  • Losing joy in your daily activities or passions
  • Overwhelming feelings of anxiety
  • Physical symptoms such as stomachaches or headaches
  • Restlessness
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Thinking about or trying to commit suicide
  • Waking during the night or early in the morning

Undiagnosed and untreated depression can get worse and stop you from living a fulfilling life. So, if you have these symptoms for two weeks or more, or if you are being treated for depression and these symptoms are not getting any better, be sure to consult a mental health professional for help.

A Word From Verywell

Depression can impact every area of your life, so it's helpful to know whether the treatment you are using is working for your type of depression and its level of severity. If you ever feel like your depression is not getting better, talk to your doctor. Many potential remedies exist. It's just a matter of finding the right one for you.

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.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. Krpan KM, Kross E, Berman MG, Deldin PJ, Askren MK, Jonides J. An everyday activity as a treatment for depression: The benefits of expressive writing for people diagnosed with major depressive disorder. J Affect Disord. 2013;150(3):1148-1151. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2013.05.065

  4. Snaith RP, Ahmed SN, Mehta S, Hamilton M. Assessment of the severity of primary depressive illness: Wakefield self-assessment depression inventory. Psychological Medicine. 1971;1(2)143-149. doi:10.1017/S0033291700000064

  5. The Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Healthcare. Depression: How effective are antidepressants?

  6. American Psychiatric Association. What is depression?

By Nancy Schimelpfening
Nancy Schimelpfening, MS is the administrator for the non-profit depression support group Depression Sanctuary. Nancy has a lifetime of experience with depression, experiencing firsthand how devastating this illness can be.