Whilst there are no actual defined clinical stages of depression, the way depression progresses can follow a definite pattern.
In one of the first stages of depression the individual may feel sadness and low mood for no apparent reason. This can either come or go over a period of time, or can be more persistent. They could start having negative thoughts and expecting things to turn out badly. For some people these feelings may just disappear over time and will not reoccur.
For other people, however, their depression may enter the next stage. They might start to feel that things are getting hopeless, and start to feel overwhelmed at times. They may start to cry or feel over emotional for no apparent reason, and these feelings will be more prolonged. At this stage, the depression could still only be fairly mild and could respond very well to treatment.
If treatment is not sought, the feelings of depression can grow, and become stronger and more constant. Now the individual could find it very difficult to make the decisions needed for daily living, and their concentration and memory could start to suffer. They might also be feeling very agitated, and will start to withdraw from social and family contact. It is at this point when treatment should be sought as a priority to enable fast recovery.
Some individuals can enter one of the more severe stages of depression. These include having suicidal thoughts and actually attempting suicide or self harm. There is a possibility that they will withdraw completely, becoming unable to care for themselves and may well become unable to communicate at all. At this point hospitalization and urgent treatment may be required.
Although depression does appear to follow this pattern, not everybody experiences it in this way. For some, more severe depression may occur without going through any of the beginning stages, and someone with mild depression might never develop the more severe symptoms.
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Stages of Treatment
There are also various stages of treatment for depression. Initial treatments may involve antidepressant medication, psychotherapy or both combined. It can take around for to eight weeks for the effects to be felt.
If the sufferer doesn’t feel any improvements after several weeks, the next stage may be to either increase the dose or try different medication. Some medication could cause an adverse reaction in some individuals so will need to be changed. The amount of psychotherapy could also be increased, or they might find counseling to be more beneficial for them. The depression may respond better to different types of therapy such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
If there is still no improvement, it might be possible to add a second medication. This could be a different type of antidepressant which has another method of working, or complementary medication such as anti-anxiety, mood stabilizers or anti-psychotic drugs.
If treatment is still having no effect or the depression is getting worse, the final stage of treatment may be more drastic options such as Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) or hospitalization.
Although there do seem to be some basic recognized stages of depression, the condition is very variable and symptoms will vary from person to person. Depression should only be diagnosed and treated by a doctor or other medical practitioner.