Medically reviewed by Angela Sheddan, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 3/20/2022
Depression is a difficult condition to live with. For many people, it comes out of nowhere and can make life more difficult. It can also be tough to quantify the severity of depressive symptoms.
If you’re wondering why your depression is getting worse, there’s some good news — because you’re aware of your mental health. Many people may not even notice that they’re showing symptoms of depression until things are pretty bad.
Depression doesn’t necessarily magically go away — and it can get worse. Read on to learn more about depression, why it might be getting worse and how to treat it.
Is your depression getting worse? Or are you just starting to notice the symptoms?
It’s an important question, because while clinical depression can worsen over time, many people suffering from depression may not notice the pattern of down, sad feelings associated with depression until they’ve been going on for some time. It’s difficult to distinguish one bad day from a depressive episode without establishing a pattern.
Depression may cause irritability, aggression, headaches, digestive issues and other physical symptoms or mental symptoms, and while we may shrug off a single headache, for example, after weeks of experiencing multiple headaches, it may click for us that something is off.
There could be several reasons why your depression might be getting worse. Depression can worsen from the conflict of difficult situations or relationships in your life — which can be common. Divorce, death, job loss and illness can — according to the National Institute of Mental Health — all worsen depression.
In fact, illness is arguably one of the leading causes of worsening depression. Diabetes, cancer, heart disease and medical conditions like Parkinson’s can worsen depression symptoms. Sometimes the medications for illnesses can also worsen depression.
But your depression might also be getting worse for no other reason than it’s not being treated. Mental health issues left unchecked tend to get worse until you take action.
How bad can your depression get? That’s a good question. The short answer is that experts can’t predict exactly how bad one person’s depression may get.
A person with depressed mood issues may see more severe symptoms as the effects of their depression cause them more problems. For instance, poor performance at work due to depression may result in termination, which would in turn increase a person’s risk of experiencing more severe depression or major depression.
Experts generally agree that if you’re feeling like your energy levels are zero, you’re self-medicating with alcohol or drugs, engaging in high risk activities, experiencing physical pain, becoming isolated or experiencing problems with sexual desire, it’s time to seek treatment. You’re already in the “worsened depression” phase.
As for the very worst, there’s suicide. While not every depressed person is at risk for suicidal ideation, it’s an extreme example of a depressive symptom, and the final warning bell to get help for many people.
Experts don’t understand why some people who think about suicide do or do not attempt suicide, but there’s no mincing words here: Any increase in risk of suicide is too much of an increase.
If you’ve considered suicide, it’s time to talk to someone. And if your depression is getting worse, it may be time to seek treatment.
Mental health disorders can get worse if left untreated, and at a certain point treatment-resistant depression is a realistic concern. So treatment sooner rather than later is the best way to reclaim your mental health.
Treatment for depression is the best way to manage your symptoms, emotions and the reduced quality of life you might be experiencing.
Seeking depression treatment starts with a conversation between you and a health care provider. They may suggest a number of treatment options, and we’ve broken these into three categories: therapy, medication, and lifestyle or habit changes.
Medication for depression can be a safe and effective way to treat sad and hopeless thoughts under the supervision of a healthcare professional. Antidepressants are a type of drug used to modify certain brain chemicals to regulate mood and depressive symptoms.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are one of the most effective types of antidepressant medications available. A comprehensive study found SSRIs to be effective and, because of the relatively low risk of side effects, one of the safest medications on the market.
Therapy is another effective way to begin taking control of depressive thoughts and moderating the symptoms of depression. Many experts will use a system of therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps depressed individuals learn to recognize depressive thoughts and patterns of thought as they are happening.
The end goal of cognitive therapy is to learn how to identify depressive ways of thinking, and replace depressive thoughts with healthier ways of seeing things.
Over time, you can essentially train your brain to avoid triggers for depression.
Mental health professionals won’t necessarily set you up with pills and appointments and send you on your way. In fact, there are a number of things you can do on your own to fight depression.
Some ways to treat depression at home include:
Exercising just 30 minutes a day.
Eating a well-balanced diet.
Drinking water and staying hydrated.
Prioritizing your sleep every night.
Engaging in relaxing activities like meditation, breathing exercises and puzzles.
Talking to friends, family and loved ones about your feelings.
Many of these practices seem simple, yet of course it’s fair to argue that writing in a journal isn’t necessarily going to “cure” your depression or its symptoms.
But when you begin to replace depressive thoughts and emotional spirals with productive and healthy activities, you’re giving depression less space in your life, and that agency means that depression gets less screen time in the movie of your life.
If the goal of treatment for depression is to make it go away, eliminating the spaces where it’s able to appear is half the battle.
Addressing any form of depressive disorder requires a treatment plan, and your individual needs may vary greatly from someone else’s for a variety of reasons.
It's best to treat any mental health conditions with the help and support of a mental health professional.
Mental health is not something that fixes itself if left alone; it needs intervention.
Whether your depression is getting worse or not, you owe it to yourself to seek help. With mental health support — you can be on your way to feeling better.