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Possible Complications of Depression

By William Marchand, M.D. ; Updated August 14, 2017

Depression is a very serious illness that can result in significant disability. Depression also significantly increases the risk of death by suicide. Depression should be taken very seriously, and an evaluation by a medical or mental health professional is always warranted to initiate an appropriate treatment plan.


Major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for ages 15 to 44, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO also reports that worldwide, major depression is the leading cause of disability among persons 5 and older. According to the National Institute of Mental Health and The Wall Street Journal, depression’s annual toll on U.S. businesses amounts to about $70 billion in medical expenditures, lost productivity and other costs. Depression accounts for close to $12 billion in lost workdays each year. Additionally, more than $11 billion in other costs accrue from decreased productivity due to symptoms that sap energy, affect work habits and cause problems with concentration, memory and decision-making.


Death by suicide is the most serious potential complication of depression. The White House Conference on Mental Health reports that depression is the cause of more than two-thirds of the reported suicides in the U.S. each year. According to the American Society of Suicidology, depression is the most common psychiatric diagnosis associated with suicide and is a factor in at least half of all suicides.

Long-Term Depression

It is possible that depression can get better without treatment, but this tends to occur within the first six months of symptoms. During the first months of symptoms, the possibility of spontaneous remission is thought to be around 50 percent. Unfortunately, the chances of getting well without treatment decrease dramatically the longer the episode lasts. During the second six months of illness, the odds of spontaneous remission drop dramatically to 5 percent. Thus, depression has a high risk of developing into a long-lasting (chronic) condition if it persists for longer than six months.

Also, whether depression is treated or gets better spontaneously, the chances of recurrence are very high. After having one episode of major depression, the risk of having another is about 50 percent within the following two years and may be as high as 90 percent within the next six years. And, the more episodes one experiences, the greater likelihood of recurrence. Overall, between 75 and 95 percent of individuals who have one major depressive episode will have at least one more at some time during their life.

Preventing Chronic and Relapse of Depression

One of the major predictors of relapse is failure to achieve full remission of symptoms. Persistence of symptoms can increase the risk of having another episode fourfold. Thus, any depressive episode should be treated to full remission as quickly as possible.

Treatments Are Available

Depression is a very serious illness that can cause not only emotional suffering, but also has a high risk of disability and death. These consequences can be prevented.

Fortunately, there are effective treatments available, including medications, psychotherapy and alternative approaches. If you have or think you might have depression, seek an evaluation from a qualified mental-health or medical professional to get started on treatment as quickly as possible.

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