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How Long Does It Take for Depression Treatment to Work? A Realistic Timeline

Surveys indicate that rates of depression among Americans are on the rise. A recent Gallup poll shows that 29 percent of Americans have been diagnosed with depression, and 17.8 percent reported that they currently have depression. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, over 60 percent of US adults with a major depressive episode sought treatment in 2020. While more people are opting to seek treatment, mental health experts are concerned about dropout rates for depression treatment.

Clients tend to drop out from treatment early on when they have unrealistic expectations about how quickly they’ll recover. So, it’s imperative that they have a thorough understanding of how long the process will take. Let’s discuss how long it takes for depression treatment to work and set a realistic timeline.


Depression treatment involves professional guidance and support to improve your mood and functioning. Here’s how long it can take to work.

Factors That Affect The Treatment Timeline

Ask any mental health practitioner how long depression treatment will take, and it’s likely that they’ll tell you it depends on different factors. These can affect how long you take to respond to treatment and the overall path to recovery. They include the following:

  • The severity of Symptoms: When you have severe symptoms that leave you unable to function, you’ll take a longer time to recover.
  • How Long You’ve Been Depressed: If you fail to seek treatment early on, depression can become chronic. And it takes a longer time to treat than acute depression.
  • Type of Depressive Disorder: If you struggle with a different type of depressive disorder, like postpartum depression or seasonal affective disorder, treatment approaches and timelines until recovery can differ.
  • Comorbidity or Co-occurring Disorders: Treatment can take longer if you struggle with a pre-existing medical condition or another mental disorder. This can include diabetes, heart disease, substance abuse, or anxiety.
  • Availability of Support: Having a stable support system comprising family members, friends, and a professional therapist can enhance the recovery process.

Based on statistics by the National Institute of Mental Health, you’ll start seeing noticeable improvement after six to eight weeks of beginning the treatment process. And if you’re seeking treatment at a treatment facility like URP Behavioral Health, mental health experts will draw up an initial plan for four to six weeks and make changes every two weeks.

Taking Medication

Depending on the symptoms you’re experiencing, it’s possible that the first step of treatment will involve prescribing antidepressant medication. They work by increasing the levels of specific neurotransmitters in the brain. These brain chemicals, such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, play a crucial role in regulating your mood and stress levels.

Studies indicate that medication is particularly effective at addressing negative affective bias, which is when you focus more on negative emotions than positive ones.

How Long Until You Feel Better

Keep in mind that all antidepressant drugs aren’t the same, so each one takes a different amount of time before you can start to see results. The American Psychiatric Association explains that it can take between one and two months until you notice a difference.

Risk of Relapse

Although it takes a couple of weeks for you to notice the effects of antidepressants, it’s important that you continue taking the medication. If you stop taking antidepressants before the prescribed time period, you risk feeling depressed again. Therefore, the APA advises people to continue pharmacotherapy for at least 4 to 9 months after achieving remission.


In most cases, depression treatment also calls for psychotherapy sessions with a trained and qualified mental health practitioner. For these sessions, your therapist will take a specific approach, like cognitive behavioral therapy, to help you cope with the problems you encounter when you have depression.

For instance, a common problem people face is the inability to tackle small tasks because they seem daunting. Your therapist will help you break them down into smaller parts, so you can deal with them easily. Similarly, they’ll help you identify negative thought patterns so you can alter them and improve your mood.

But this process can take time, and studies show that you’ll need between six to eight sessions before you start seeing a difference. If these are weekly sessions, you’ll need to continue these sessions for some time after you start feeling better.

Seeking Inpatient Treatment

Pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy are both essential components of a treatment program for depression. However, it’s difficult to give a specific timeline when you fail to consider the effect of one’s environment on their mental health. Research indicates that intensive inpatient treatment has a superior effect on chronic depression compared to outpatient treatment.

That’s because it allows consistent therapy and adherence to the treatment process. Therefore, it allows for a much more precise timeline. Not to mention, a residential treatment program involves much more than therapy and medication – it provides a comfortable environment that’s conducive to recovery. That means you don’t face any environmental stressors, which allows you to focus on recovery.

How Long Does Inpatient Treatment for Depression Take

Usually, mental health experts draw up a customized treatment plan for each client, detailing the process for about 4 to 6 weeks. Additionally, you’ll be provided with different classes to help you perform better in everyday tasks, interactions, and environments. Because you receive therapy on a daily basis, you can expect to recover quickly and transition back to a normal routine. Studies show that the average length of stay varies between four and eight weeks, depending on how clients respond to treatment.


While there’s no conclusive timeline for how long depression treatment takes, research shows that clients start seeing improvements in six to eight weeks. However, feeling better doesn’t guarantee that you’re fully treated. Therefore, it’s best to remain in treatment for a few months after your symptoms have disappeared. You can expect a faster recovery by opting for inpatient treatment since it addresses various areas and focuses on improving your well-being.


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Jason Shiers

Certified Advanced Transformative Coach Transactional Analysis Psychotherapist, specialist working with addictions. I have been working with people and helping to change lives for as long as I can remember in one way or another, while going through my own change, and learning about how the mind works, I bring together 20+ years of experience and learning from all paradigms of change models, to my current understanding of the 3 principles as uncovered by Sydney Banks in the 1970s.

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