Major depressive disorder (MDD) is often a chronic illness marked by repeated episodes of depression. In study participants, these episodes tend to last, on average, about 20 weeks.
The course of the illness depends, to a large extent, on the structural brain changes that have occurred and whether these changes are halted or reversed in time with the help of treatment.
With the correct treatment (usually a combination of psychotherapy and medication), 75% of people with MDD can achieve a significant reduction in symptoms.
If left untreated, however, MDD may result in progressive changes in the brain’s functioning. Untreated MDD is associated with damage to the brain and loss of volume in various brain areas, including the hippocampus (the brain’s emotional centre). The sooner you start treatment for MDD, the better the prognosis will be.
More than 50% of people with depression develop a recurrent or chronic disorder after a first depressive episode and are likely to spend more than 20% of their lifetime in a depressed condition. It’s therefore important to keep in touch with your psychiatrist and/or psychologist even after you’ve been successfully treated, as a relapse may occur.
Never stop taking your medication without speaking to your doctor first.
Reviewed by psychiatrist Dr Matthew Mausling, Life Kingsbury Hospital, Claremont. October 2018.