What Are The Stages of Depression?
Updated December 14, 2018
Reviewer Audrey Kelly, LMFT
Like with anything you might go through, there are stages of depression that you might notice as you cope with the illness. While it is normal to feel sad from time to time, depression is something much more encompassing that may seem like it will never be ending. However, it usually doesn't come on all at once. It does come on gradually, in many cases.
There are also stages you will go through while you are suffering or coping with depression, stages of emotion that you will go through while you are learning about what it means to have depression and how to cope with it and overcome it.
Before you can fully understand the stages of depression, you have first to understand what depression is, and how the stages of depression are defined. Then you may be able to recognize some of the stages of depression for yourself, either from your own experiences or the experiences of those you know and love.
What Constitutes Depression?
Everyone gets sad from time to time, and sometimes events happen that can bring on a bout of depression, such as a loss or a death. However, depression is a lasting sadness that does not go away over time. True depression may come on with no distinguishable trigger or event. There may be no reason that you can pinpoint for why you feel depressed. And, regardless of your best efforts, the depression will last for at least two weeks or more.
When depression lasts more than two weeks or recurs consistently for two weeks or more several times within a year, it may constitute a major depressive disorder. Often people who go through depression routinely or for long periods of time require assistance in the form of medications or therapy to help them cope with their mood disorder.
- Are There Stages Of Depression?
There are not, per se, stages of depression that everyone goes through. There is not a set number of stages that everyone goes through when they go through depression. However, there are some ways that many people experience depression that could be considered stages of depression. Many people go through certain stages on their path through depression as depression starts and progresses, although this does not hold true for everyone. There are also some stages that everyone goes through emotionally when they are trying to cope with depression.
- Stages Of Depression Modeled On 5 Stages Of Grief
There is a model of the five stages of grief that was initially developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross for dealing with death and dying. The model was designed based on observations and studies of how people react to loss and grief.
This model has been applied to many different emotional issues that people go through, including coping with depression. Many people who suffer from depression go through similar stages such as the stages of grief as they learn about their depression and learn to accept and cope with it.
Denial and Anger
Denial is fairly short-lived when it comes to depression. The feelings of intense sadness that you will feel in depression can be difficult to ignore. However, you may have denied that this is a problem you need to seek help for. You may feel as though you should overcome it on your own.
Much more common and intense are feelings of anger. You may feel intense anger that you are going through this difficult time, and see no way out of the depression. You may go into a phase of thinking about "why me" and wanting to fight an inner demon that in reality is just another version of yourself.
Once depression has advanced, the illness becomes almost like another entity. The depression tells you horrible things about yourself and what is going on in the world around you. And, tired of feeling this way, you begin to bargain with it. You try to issue ultimatums and negotiations trying to stave off the thoughts brought on by the depression in favor of something more positive. Unfortunately, this is rarely successful, and the negative thoughts or the entity of depression invariably wins out, leading to the next stage.
When you are in the depths of the depression, you may feel a though you are lost in a wilderness from which you cannot escape. The depression may completely overtake you and make you feel as though you will never be happy again. During this stage of your depression, you will have obsessive and racing thoughts that are debilitating in nature. These thoughts will further perpetuate the depression, making you quite desperate.
Finally, you have to come to accept the depression. You seek help, and you do the work in therapy and take the medications you are prescribed. You begin to feel better. You may fear a relapse, but eventually, you come to recognize that although relapse is possible, you have to accept that as something the might happen, but not dwell on the possibility.
- 5 Stages Of Depression Symptoms
Another model for the stages of depression is one based on the symptoms of depression disorders themselves. Not everyone will go through these five stages of depression in the same order, nor will everyone go through all five stages of depression at all. For example, some people never have changes in sleep patterns or changes in appetite.
However, these five stages of depression are the closest model there is that represents what most people go through as depression develops. Getting help in the earlier stages of depression is the most helpful, and if you get the proper help in the form of medications and therapy, you may not go through all five of the stages of depression.
Negative Thought Patterns
For most people, depression starts with negative thought patterns. Negative thoughts intrude and are not easy to dismiss. These negative thoughts might be about yourself, or they might be thoughts about how you perceive others to think of you. You may also have negative thoughts about the world around you, thinking that things are hopeless and will never get better.
Changes In Appetite
Many people who go through depression experience changes in appetite. Some people lose their appetite completely, while other people may eat more than usual. And, some people may not have changes in appetite at all. It depends on the individual and their typical eating habits. Some people overeat considerably when they are unhappy, and some people who are unhappy or feeling stressed lose their appetite completely. This is an arbitrary stage of depression that may not be a true measure of the illness.
Changes in Sleep Patterns
Almost everyone who goes through depression goes through changes in sleep patterns. However, this may be different for different people. Some people experience insomnia. They may spend the entire day feeling fatigued and tired, only to be unable to sleep at night because the negative thoughts invade and will not stop. Other people may feel so fatigued and tired from the depression that they sleep much more than normal.
Much less arbitrary is the stage of depression relating to self-blame. In the stage of self-blame, you begin to blame yourself for things that may not even be under your control. You blame yourself for your feelings of depression, and you blame yourself for your actions and words that are due to the depression. This can greatly increase the depressive symptoms and make you sink even lower.
Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors
The final stage of depression is suicidal thoughts and behaviors, also referred to as suicidal ideation. Some people never reach this stage, either because they simply do not reach that point or because they get help before the depression reaches this severity. Additionally, many more people have thoughts of suicide than people who attempt. For some people, this stage may not involve thinking about actually ending their life, but simply wishing for the depression to stop.
Getting Help Early
Getting help during the earliest stages of depression is extremely important. The sooner you reach out for a therapist or psychiatrist to help you face your depression head-on, the easier it will be to get relief from your symptoms. When you get help early on, it is much easier to treat the depression and keep it from reaching a point that it severely impacts your life or keeps you from living your fullest life possible.
Of course, it is important to seek out help for your depression even if you are in the later stages of the illness. If you recognize any of these stages of depression in yourself, it is important that you seek out a therapist as quickly as possible to get help in facing your depression and getting relief from your symptoms. Depression is entirely treatable and does not have to last forever. But you must seek out help if you want anything to change. Do not try to battle depression alone.