Are There Stages of Depression? Understanding Symptoms, Causes, and Effective Treatments

Depression impacts individuals uniquely, and although some individuals speculate that it follows stages akin to those in grief, there is no scientific backing for this idea. Research indicates that depression’s progression is more accurately described as a continuous increase in symptom severity.


What Are The Stages Of Depression?

Depression is a complex and personal experience that affects people in different ways. Some sources say on the internet that depression has stages, like how people go through phases of grief. But scientific studies don’t back up this idea.

Instead, research suggests that depression is more like a scale where the symptoms get worse as you go along. This introduction will discuss how experts try to understand how depression changes over time.

Some studies show that people think of depression as a scale that goes from feeling good (“wellness”) to feeling bad (“recurring or stubborn depressive disorder”). They also look at how bad the depression is, like mild, moderate, or severe. Some research even says the “depression stages” might affect your willingness to get help.

Experts also examine how depression is linked to gender, life events, and how people deal with challenging situations. However, the effects can be different depending on how severe the depression is.

And sometimes, when something big and sad happens, like losing a loved one or becoming disabled, it can look like someone is going through a depressive episode. However, the experts say that you can have both that and a major depressive episode at the same time. This introduction gives us a sneak peek into all the different ideas about how depression changes and moves over time.

Are There 4 Stages of Depression?

Depression uniquely affects each person. Sometimes, you might see stuff online saying that most people go through depression stages, like the five stages of grief. However, there isn’t much research to back up these claims. We’ll explore these ideas a bit more.

Depression Stage Of Grief

The five stages of grief are a well-known way of understanding how people cope with death and sadness. Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross developed this idea in her book “On Death and Dying” in 1969.

These five stages are often shortened to “DABDA,” and they are:

  1. Denial.
  2. Anger.
  3. Bargaining.
  4. Depression.
  5. Acceptance.

Originally, Kübler-Ross created this model for people facing serious illnesses, but it has been used in different situations, like dealing with grief or significant life changes. Some experts have even used it to describe how people with ongoing health conditions like diabetes or HIV feel.

People dealing with the loss of someone they care about or expecting a significant change in their lives might also go through these stages.

Some blogs and health websites say that the DABDA model can also apply to people with depression. But it’s important to know that there isn’t substantial research supporting the idea that depression unfolds in stages like the five stages of grief or death.

Are there 4 or 5 Stages Of Depression?

Research tells us that many people think of depressive disorders as a spectrum. This means it’s like a scale, with symptoms getting more intense as you go along.

In 2017, a mental health expert developed a model to put this spectrum of depression symptoms into stages. These stages include:

  1. Feeling well.
  2. Going through distress.
  3. Having a full-blown depressive disorder.
  4. Dealing with a recurring or very stubborn depressive disorder.

In 2022, another study presented a similar model that starts with early signs of depression (called the prodromal stage) and goes to being resistant to medication.

Lots of studies also talk about different levels of depression, like mild, moderate, and severe, which are often seen as stages of the disorder. In 2018, one study even suggested that where you are in this “stage” of depression might affect whether you seek help.

On the internet, you may come across claims suggesting that individuals with depression go through stages of depression akin to the well-known "Five Stages of Grief." However, scientific research does not substantiate this notion.
On the internet, you may come across claims suggesting that individuals with depression go through stages of depression akin to the well-known “Five Stages of Grief.” However, scientific research does not substantiate this notion.

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In 2017, a study said that things like your gender, what’s happening in your life, and how you handle challenging situations can affect how depression affects you. And this can be different depending on how bad the depression is.

The DSM-5-TR (a guide for diagnosing mental disorders) recognizes that when something big and sad happens, like losing someone you love or becoming disabled, it can make you feel like you’re in a depressive episode. It also says you can have this depressive episode and your response to the significant loss.

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We Level Up Stages of Depression Mental Health Center Tips and Strategies

Engaging in self-help strategies can complement professional treatment for depression. This may include practicing stress reduction techniques, incorporating regular exercise into your routine, getting sufficient sleep, maintaining a balanced diet, and avoiding substance abuse.

Depression Fact Sheet

Definition: Depression is a common mental health disorder characterized by persistent sadness, loss of interest or pleasure in activities, and a range of physical and cognitive symptoms. It affects how a person thinks, feels, and functions daily.

Prevalence: Depression is a global health concern, affecting people of all ages and backgrounds.

Symptoms: Common symptoms of depression include persistent sadness, hopelessness, loss of interest in activities, changes in appetite and weight, sleep disturbances, low energy levels, difficulty concentrating, and thoughts of self-harm or suicide.

Risk Factors: Depression can be influenced by various factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, trauma, chronic medical conditions, certain medications, substance abuse, and significant life events such as loss or relationship problems. Women may be at a higher risk due to hormonal fluctuations.

Impact: Depression can have a significant effect on an individual’s quality of life, affecting their relationships, work or school performance, physical health, and overall well-being. It can also increase the risk of other health problems, including cardiovascular diseases.

Treatment: Depression is a treatable condition. Treatment options may include psychotherapy (such as cognitive-behavioral therapy), medication (such as antidepressants), or a combination of both. Lifestyle modifications, social support, and self-care practices are essential to manage depression.

Breaking the Stigma: Depression is not a sign of weakness or a character flaw. It is a medical condition that requires understanding, compassion, and support. By promoting open conversations, raising awareness, and challenging stigmas associated with mental health, we can create a more supportive environment for individuals affected by depression.

Learn more with the Depression Disorder PDF download below. Source: Samhsa.gov.

Depression Statistics

Understanding the stages of depression and the prevalence of this mental health condition is crucial in addressing its impact on individuals and society. Depression is a common and severe mental disorder affecting millions worldwide. By examining the stages of depression from a statistical perspective, we can gain valuable insights into its prevalence, demographic patterns, and the burden it places on individuals and healthcare systems.


21 million

An estimated 21.0 million adults in the United States had at least one major depressive episode. This number represented 8.4% of all U.S. adults.

Source: National Institute on Mental Health

10.5%

The prevalence of major depressive episodes was higher among adult females (10.5%) than males (6.2%).

Source: National Institute on Mental Health

17.0%

The prevalence of adults with a major depressive episode was highest among individuals aged 18-25 (17.0%).

Source: National Institute of Mental Health


What Are The Symptoms of Depression?

Depression is a complex mental health condition characterized by emotional, cognitive, and physical symptoms. The severity and combination of symptoms can vary from person to person. Common symptoms of depression may include:

  • Persistent Sadness: An overwhelming feeling of sadness or emptiness that lasts most of the day, nearly every day.
  • Loss of Interest: A diminished interest or pleasure in activities or hobbies that were once enjoyable.
  • Fatigue: A constant tiredness, even after a whole night’s sleep.
  • Changes in Appetite: Significant changes in appetite, leading to weight loss or gain. This may manifest as overeating or loss of appetite.
  • Sleep Disturbances: Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing excessive sleep (hypersomnia).
  • Difficulty Concentrating: An inability to concentrate, make decisions, or remember things.
  • Feelings of Guilt or Worthlessness: Ongoing feelings of guilt, self-blame, or a sense of worthlessness.
  • Irritability: Unexplained irritability, restlessness, or agitation.
  • Physical Symptoms: Physical discomforts such as headaches, stomachaches, or other unexplained aches and pains.
  • Isolation: Withdrawal from social activities, friends, and family. A tendency to isolate oneself.
  • Suicidal Thoughts: Thoughts of death, self-harm, or suicide. It’s crucial to seek immediate help if you or someone you know is experiencing these thoughts.
  • Loss of Libido: A decrease in sexual desire and interest.
  • Hopelessness: A pervasive sense of hopelessness about the future.
  • Psychomotor Agitation or Retardation: Restlessness or slowed physical and mental movements.
  • Changes in Sleep Patterns: Sleeping too much or experiencing insomnia.

Not everyone with depression will exhibit all these symptoms, and their intensity can vary. To receive an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment, it’s advisable to consult with a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist.

Depression is a treatable condition, and various therapies, including psychotherapy and medication, can help individuals manage their symptoms and improve their overall well-being. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of depression, seeking professional help is crucial for recovery.

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What Are The Causes of Depression?

  • Biological Factors: Imbalances in brain chemistry and neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and norepinephrine, may play a role in depression. Genetic factors can also contribute to an individual’s susceptibility to depression.
  • Environmental Factors: Certain life events, such as trauma, loss, abuse, or significant stressors like financial difficulties or relationship problems, can trigger or exacerbate depression. Chronic exposure to adverse environments, including dysfunctional families, social isolation, or ongoing stress, may also increase the risk.
  • Psychological Factors: Negative thinking patterns, low self-esteem, a history of trauma, or specific personality traits, such as perfectionism or a tendency to ruminate, may contribute to the development or persistence of depression.
  • Medical Conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as chronic pain, chronic illnesses, hormonal imbalances, or neurological disorders, can increase the risk of developing depression.
  • Medications or Substance Abuse: Some medicines, such as certain beta-blockers or corticosteroids, can potentially trigger depressive symptoms. Substance abuse, including alcohol or drug use, is also associated with an increased risk of depression.

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The stages of depression itself can vary in terms of intensity, duration, and the specific symptoms experienced.
The stages of depression itself can vary in terms of intensity, duration, and the specific symptoms experienced.

How Does The Depression Diagnosis Work?

The usual way to diagnose depression involves a detailed assessment done by experts. They talk to the person and use specific criteria from the DSM-5-TR to help figure out if someone has depression.

To get a diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), most of the time, a person must have at least five out of nine specific symptoms. These symptoms should stick around for at least two weeks. Notably, among those five symptoms, one has to have a consistent feeling of sadness or a significant loss of interest or pleasure, called anhedonia.

Besides the psychological evaluation, the diagnosis process might include physical check-ups and some lab tests as part of a thorough assessment.

The main goal of these extra steps is to check for any medical conditions that might look like depression. Things like hyperthyroidism or other health problems can have symptoms similar to depression. That’s why it’s important to do physical exams and specific lab tests to rule out these possibilities.

By being so thorough, healthcare experts aim to not only make sure the depression diagnosis is correct but also to get a complete picture of the person’s well-being. This helps understand the emotional and medical aspects, leading to a more accurate and holistic view of the individual’s health.

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Treatment at We Level Up Fort Lauderdale Florida Depression Center

Various treatments are available for treating the stages of depression, and the most appropriate treatment option depends on the individual’s specific needs and the severity of their depression. Here are some common treatment approaches:

  • Psychotherapy: Also known as talk therapy, psychotherapy involves working with a trained therapist to explore and address the underlying causes and triggers of depression. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT) are widely used and evidence-based psychotherapy for depression.
  • Medication: Antidepressant medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), can help alleviate depressive symptoms by balancing brain chemistry. Medications are typically prescribed and monitored by a psychiatrist or a healthcare provider.
  • Self-Help Strategies: Engaging in self-help strategies can complement professional treatment. This may include practicing stress reduction techniques, incorporating regular exercise into your routine, getting sufficient sleep, maintaining a balanced diet, and avoiding substance abuse.
  • Lifestyle Modifications: Making positive changes in lifestyle habits can benefit mood and overall well-being. This may involve establishing a regular sleep schedule, engaging in enjoyable activities, socializing with supportive individuals, and reducing stress through relaxation techniques.
  • Support Groups: Joining support groups or participating in group therapy can provide a sense of community, validation, and shared experiences, which can be helpful for individuals with depression. Support groups can be in-person or online.
  • Alternative and Complementary Therapies: Some individuals may benefit from alternative or complementary therapies such as acupuncture, yoga, mindfulness meditation, or herbal supplements. However, consulting with a healthcare professional before pursuing these approaches is essential.
Sometimes, you might see stuff online saying that most people go through depression stages, like the five stages of grief. However, there isn't much research to back up these claims.
Sometimes, you might see stuff online saying that most people go through depression stages, like the five stages of grief. However, there isn’t much research to back up these claims.

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  1. Are there stages of depression?

    While there is no universally agreed-upon set of stages for depression, some professionals may recognize different phases or patterns of symptoms in individuals.

  2. How many stages of depression are there?

    The number of stages of depression is not universally agreed upon, as depression is a complex and individualized condition.

  3. What’s the Highest Stage Of Depression?

    Depression is not typically categorized into “stages” like some other conditions. It’s essential to understand that depression is a complex and highly individualized mental health condition. Instead of stages, it is often described in terms of varying degrees of severity, such as mild, moderate, and severe depression. The severity of depression can fluctuate over time, and the highest or most severe stage is often called “severe depression” or “major depression.”

  4. What’s the Depression After Honeymoon Stage?

    “Depression after the honeymoon stage” is not a recognized clinical concept. It appears to be a symbolic or informal way to describe a phase in a relationship or a period in life when initial excitement or euphoria diminishes, potentially leading to feelings of sadness or disappointment.

Watch Our We Level Up Therapist Michelle’s Tips On Identifying and Overcoming Depression

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Find effective inpatient mental health rehab for Depression. Get professional help from We Level Up’s skilled therapists. Start receiving support with a free call to our Depression disorder hotline.

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Search Mental Health Stages of Depression Topics & Resources
Sources
  1. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) – Depression Overview: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) – Depression: https://www.samhsa.gov/mental-health/depression
  3. MedlinePlus – Depression: https://medlineplus.gov/depression.html
  4. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) – Major Depression – National Institute of Mental Health: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression.shtml
  5. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) – Psychotherapies: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/psychotherapies/index.shtml