The 5 Stages of Depression

October 19, 2023

image of woman representing stages of depression

Some people talk about the 5 stages of depression in the same way as the 5 stages of grief. That said, depression manifests uniquely in individuals, and while some may liken it to the stages of grief, there is no solid research backing this comparison. Rather, research suggests that depression appears to progress along a continuum marked by increasing symptom severity if untreated.

Depression is a prevalent and severe mental health condition affecting 21 million U.S. adults in 2021, according to NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health), with approximately 1 in 6 adults experiencing it during their lifetime. Various forms of depression exist, each presenting a range of symptoms. Despite the absence of concrete evidence, some suggest that there are stages of depression like those exhibited in grief. Today, we clear up the confusion. Read on to discover:

  • Are there stages of depression?
  • How many stages of depression are there?
  • What are the stages of depression?
  • How to connect with treatment for all levels of depression.

If you are looking help for a depression problem, contact Connections to learn more about our Orange County depression treatment program.

The Stages of Depression in Order

Depression affects each person uniquely, and while some people may suggest that there are different stages of depression similar to the five stages of grief, scientific research does not substantiate this claim. There is, though, some evidence supporting the idea that depression exists on a spectrum of increasing symptom severity.

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The five stages of grief were introduced by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying. These stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance (DABDA). Initially applied to individuals facing terminal illnesses, this model has been extended to various contexts, including grief, major life changes, and even chronic illnesses like diabetes and HIV diagnoses.

Some online platforms suggest that the DABDA model applies to depression, but no scientific research supports the idea that there is a depression stage like a grief stage.

While research does not endorse the idea of different steps of depression, some people believe that depressive disorders exist on a continuum of symptom severity rather than a specific depression phase. 

In 2017, a mental health expert proposed a staged model categorizing depressive symptoms into stages like wellness, distress, depressive disorder, and recurrent or treatment-resistant depressive disorder. A 2022 review also presented a similar model.

Additionally, many studies classify depression into degrees of severity, such as mild, moderate, and severe. Some research suggests that a person’s depression severity level may influence their readiness to seek help for the condition.

man's head is in his hands representing 5 stages of depression

Symptoms of Depression Stages

Depression is a complex mental health condition that can manifest through various symptoms and stages. Understanding these stages can help individuals recognize and address their depression more effectively. Here are the common symptoms associated with the stages of depression as outlined in DSM-5-TR:

  • Depressed mood: This hallmark symptom of depression involves a persistent feeling of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness. 
  • Loss of interest or pleasure: People in the early stages of depression often lose interest in activities they once enjoyed. This is clinically described as anhedonia.
  • Sleep changes: Depression can lead to either insomnia (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep) or hypersomnia (excessive sleep).
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt: Individuals may experience an overwhelming sense of guilt or worthlessness, even over minor issues.
  • Energy changes: Depression can cause significant changes in energy levels, resulting in fatigue or restlessness.
  • Reduced attention and concentration: Difficulty concentrating and making decisions is a cognitive symptom of depression.
  • Psychomotor changes: Some people may experience psychomotor agitation (restlessness) or retardation (slowed movements).
  • Weight and appetite changes: Depression can lead to changes in eating habits, resulting in weight loss or gain.
  • Suicidal thoughts: In severe cases, individuals may have thoughts of death or suicide.
  • Memory difficulties or personality changes: These symptoms can be less obvious but may still indicate depression, especially in older adults.

Not everyone with depression experiences these symptoms in the same way or order, and some may not experience all of them. Additionally, the condition is not typically characterized by a stage of depression like grief, but rather a continuum of symptom severity.

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, seeking help from a mental health professional is essential for proper evaluation and treatment.

How to Get Treated for The Phases of Depression

Treatment for depression varies depending on the severity and stages of the condition. If you suspect that you are experiencing symptoms of depression, seek professional help. Start by consulting a primary care physician or a mental health specialist. They can assess your condition, determine the stage of depression, and recommend appropriate treatment.

Psychotherapy, informally known as talk therapy, is an effective treatment for depression. CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), IPT (interpersonal therapy), and psychodynamic therapy are some common forms of psychotherapy used to address depression symptoms. The choice of therapy may depend on the stage of depression and individual needs.

Antidepressant medications can be prescribed to manage depression, especially in moderate to severe cases. Medications like SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) are commonly used. Medication can help stabilize mood and alleviate symptoms.

Making positive lifestyle changes can play a significant role in managing depression. Regular exercise, a balanced diet, adequate sleep, and stress reduction techniques can help improve overall well-being.

Engaging in a support system, such as joining support groups or confiding in trusted friends and family, can provide emotional support during the phases of depression.

In some cases, neuromodulation techniques like ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) or TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) may be recommended for treatment-resistant depression.

Regardless of the stage, ongoing monitoring by a healthcare professional is essential to track progress and make adjustments to the treatment plan as needed.

Remember that treatment should be tailored to your specific needs and the stage of depression you are experiencing. Collaborate closely with your healthcare provider to determine the most appropriate treatment plan for you.

group of friends laughing representing treatment for depression stages

Get Expert Treatment for Depression at Connections 

At Connections Mental Health in Southern California, we offer compassionate and personalized treatment for individuals dealing with depression and other mental health conditions.

Our facility, located by the beach, provides a warm and nurturing environment, ideal for those seeking stability, inner peace, and healing. Our dedicated team of experts combines holistic and evidence-based therapies in a setting designed to resemble a comforting home rather than a purely clinical environment.

Whether you or someone you know is facing episodes of depression, our mission is to support you in regaining functionality and enhancing your mental well-being at Connections Mental Health. To begin your journey towards recovery in Southern California, please call our admissions team today at 844-413-0009. We’re here to help you kickstart your path to wellness.

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