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How long will I need treatment for depression?

As you're starting treatment for depression, you will probably have questions. You may be wondering what you can expect over the course of your treatment, how quickly it will help you feel better, how long you may need to take medications, or how long you may need therapy.

Feeling better usually doesn't happen overnight - treatment takes time. You may need several weeks of therapy before you notice improvement. With medications, most people begin to feel better in 4 to 6 weeks. With psychotherapy alone, it may take longer. Some people need a combination of medication and psychotherapy before they feel significant improvement.

The Phases of Treatment

Depression is usually treated in 3 phases:

Acute treatment. This first phase in treatment usually lasts for 4 to 16 weeks. Its aim is to reduce and eliminate your symptoms. During this phase, sleep, appetite, and energy level usually improve. Sometimes not all of the symptoms are completely eliminated during this stage.

Continuation treatment. The second phase of treatment usually lasts for 4 to 5 months. Its goal is to prevent relapse. Continuing treatment even after you feel well is important because it can help keep the depression from coming back. During this stage, if you are taking medications, you usually continue them at full dosage. Some evidence suggests that continuing psychotherapy during this period is helpful for some people.

Maintenance treatment. Depending on many factors, including whether you have had prior episodes of depression, your doctor may want you to continue on maintenance treatment. The goal is to prevent the onset of another episode. This may mean taking maintenance medications and continuing psychotherapy or other treatments.