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What Are the Stages of Depression?

Katelyn Hagerty FNP

Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 12/16/2021

If you’re an adult — and we’re assuming you are — chances are you or someone you know has experienced depression. In fact, according to the CDC, one in six Americans will, at some point in life, experience a form of depression.

Sounds kind of depressing. 

And the signs and stages of depression can be subtle. Positive events don’t carry the same poignancy. Feelings of sadness — intense sadness, even — seem to come out of nowhere. We’ve all been there, in one way or another.

Thing is, depression doesn’t have to take over your life. You can recover from it, and live more happily.

Read on to learn more about the stages of depression, along with symptoms to watch for, and the best treatment options to help you (or a loved one) recover.

According to the CDC, one in six Americans will, at some point in their lives, experience depression.

Cluing into depression – specifically its stages – can also be challenging.

After all, how can you differentiate a sad moment from bonafide depression? 

Read on to learn the specific stages of depression, as well as different ways to treat depression itself.

Depression Is Common

Millions of Americans have endured depressive episodes, and those numbers have only increased since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

According to a recent report on effects experienced over a short period of time in 2020 — from December 9 to December 20 — nearly 42% of Americans were living with some form of depression or anxiety. That figure increased from 36% in August of the same year.

It’s important to remember those numbers aren’t simply data points; they’re friends and family. They’re people you love. Or one of those numbers is you.  

While depression can seem like an invisible ailment, there are fortunately clear ways to identify it, whether it’s consistent, depressive behavior or an intense episode of mood swings.

Some people describe depression as a collection of symptoms, while others describe depression as a collection of stages much the way people articulate the periods of grief experiences.

Once you’re able to identify symptoms or stages of depression, you’ll be on your way to controlling the depression itself.  

Here are some stages to watch for, whether it's regarding your own wellbeing or that of your loved ones.

Hopelessness

You might know this as an opaque, lingering sense that there’s nothing good on the horizon. Yeah, I think all of us can relate, to one degree or another.  

And after the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s completely understandable that you might be feeling more hopeless than before. 

In fact, since the pandemic’s inception, statistics show that depression among American adults has tripled.  So if you’re feeling a sense of hopelessness, you’re not alone.

And while one doesn’t welcome the feeling, it’s important to know that feeling hopeless — and, of course, any sentiment associated with depression — doesn’t make you weird or abnormal.  

Here’s what’s good to know: Hopelessness is not an eternal state. Instead, it’s a symptomatic byproduct of a depressive episode.

Irritability

Maybe you think you or someone you know is having a bad day, but it may be that the irritability you’re feeling or witnessing is a result of a broader depression. 

Irritability can take the form of a serious mood swing, bad mood, or simply be an outburst at something relatively small or meaningless in the context of the outburst itself.

In fact, it’s now recognized that people with depression typically experience more anger and irritability than those who do not experience depression at all.

Knowing all this, your irritability might be more than just a bad mood. It could also be a sign or stage of depression. 

Fatigue

A common symptom of someone with depression is fatigue. 

Some might associate fatigue as simply being tired or lethargic. Yet because of the research done on fatigue, we now understand that — when linked to depression — it can mean much more than needing a cup of coffee or a better night’s sleep.

Fatigue can affect how your body moves, brain functions and how you process emotions. Fatigue can also have an impact on relationships and your ability to simply enjoy life.  

After all, if we can’t get out of bed or off the couch, what can we do?

While there are many remedies being developed to combat depression-related fatigue, it’s important to understand where the fatigue comes from, and how its residual lingering can affect moods as well as the body.

Appetite and Weight Changes

Studies now show that decreased appetite — and consequential weight loss — can come via depression. For some, too, depression can lead to weight gain. 

It’s important to pay attention to one’s energy and appetite when experiencing weight changes. 

While it may seem like a blip on your radar, there’s a chance that your fatigue and related weight loss or gain could be part of a broader ecosystem of depression.

In terms of weight loss: If it’s about  five percent of your body weight and comes off within a year, that could be cause for concern, as well as a tell-tale sign that that weight loss isn’t necessarily because of a new diet.

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Decreased Libido

It sucks.  

A lot.

Let’s just call it for what it is.  But it also doesn’t have to be the new normal. 

First, know that a decreased libido can be a byproduct of a depressive episode — or persistent depression.  

Depression is known to sometimes reduce a person’s desire for physical intimacy, as well as sexual activity.

A reduced libido can seriously affect your ability to think straight, though, causing self-doubt and confusion over the lack of physical desire.

But there’s good news: There are several ways to ameliorate a decreased sexual appetite. However, first you have to recognize what you’re experiencing and take it from there.

Anxiety

If you’re experiencing depression, chances are there’s some anxiety accompanying that depression.  

Anyone who’s experienced anxiety knows it can be a real monkey on your shoulders.  Among other symptoms, anxiety can manifest as a combination of worried thoughts, elevated heart rate and dizziness.

With proper treatment like therapy, anxiety can be controlled.

It’s important to recognize how your anxiety manifests, and then understand that it could be part of a broader picture that includes depression. 

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Sleep Troubles

Depression can affect your sleep in both directions. You can either have worse sleep, or you can sleep too much.  

You might even have trouble getting out of bed.

Because of the ways in which depression can affect your neurochemistry, there’s a chance that the complex ecosystem of sleep and the sleep cycle is adversely affected.  

The relationship between your serotonin and circadian rhythm might be thrown for a loop which can negatively impact your quality of sleep.

Thoughts of Death or Suicide

Suicide and suicidal thoughts are all-too-common, painful afflictions which deserve care, consideration and hypervigilance.  

Suicidal thoughts are characterized as the willingness to do harm to one’s self to the point of death. 

It’s important that, upon recognizing those symptoms in yourself or others, to immediately provide care and compassion — even if it’s for yourself.  

Remember that, with the proper care and concern, life does get better.

Varieties of Depression

Depression can often include the stages and symptoms mentioned above, yet there are specific types of depression (with related symptoms) that might be helpful to recognize. 

  • Persistent Depressive Disorder is a depressive disorder which afflicts people for at least two years. The severity of the depressive symptoms may vary from person to person, but this type of depression is typically ‘persistent’ in its nature for anyone who suffers from it.

  • Postpartum Depression affects women during pregnancy or after they give birth, and the severity of the depression can often be quite severe.

  • Psychotic Depression occurs in someone who experiences severe depression along with symptoms associated with psychosis. Psychotic symptoms can be delusions, as well as hearing or seeing things.

  • Seasonal Affective Disorder impacts someone’s mood in relation to weather, and typically hits during the cold, darker months of the year in autumn and winter.

  • Bipolar Disorder comes in the form of extreme highs and extreme lows.  Usually, someone with bipolar has manic episodes of euphoria and productivity, followed by lows during which they’re gripped by severe depression.

Treatment Options

There’s a large array of options to treat and turn around depression. While the quality of health insurance can sometimes dictate treatment options, there’s a wide range of means to help support your mental health.  

Here are a few options:

  • Talk Therapy. There are different types of therapy, but with all, for the most part: A mental health professional can listen to your concerns or challenges, and then offer practical solutions (counseling) to address your depression.

  • Psychiatry. Much like therapy, a mental health professional can help you assess your concerns, yet with psychiatry, your provider can prescribe antidepressants.  

  • Antidepressants. These medications (such as SSRIs) can help combat your depression and enhance your quality of life. They work to balance the chemicals and functions within your brain, and can be prescribed by psychiatrists, general practitioners, and nurse practitioners. 

  • Electroconvulsive Therapy stimulates the brain by inducing a brief seizure through the use of electrodes. It’s used to combat more serious forms of depression.

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Tackling the Stages of Depression

Depression doesn’t have to dominate your life and it’s highly treatable. It’s also incredibly common (whether it’s major depression or basic anxiety), and can affect us all.

It’s helpful to recognize the many ways in which depressive moods and symptoms of depression can manifest, so you can get a sense for when something seems or feels off. And of course your best bet to start would be to consult with a healthcare professional who may refer you to therapy to help manage your depression. You can also reach out to an online psychiatry provider and discuss the possibility of antidepressants as a form of treatment.

For more information, check out our mental health resources or online support groups for communal, guided help.

24 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

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This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

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