How Long Does It Take for Depression Treatment to Work?

A look at how psychotherapy and antidepressants work—and how long these treatments take to work.

In some cases, people taking antidepressants will notice an improvement within a few weeks, but it can take 4 to 6 weeks (and in some cases longer) for a person to notice an improvement.

Medically reviewed in May 2022

Nearly everyone who is treating depression will ask themselves this question at some point—How long until I feel better?

While there are effective treatments for depression, predicting how long treatment will take can be a challenge. A diagnosis of depression relies on self-reported symptoms, including moods, thoughts, and behaviors.

Improvements in symptoms will also be self-reported, meaning they may not be apparent to anyone besides the person who is experiencing them. Even then, getting better is often a gradual process, with many small improvements along the way—small improvements that may not be obvious from one day to the next.

Also, depression is a different experience for every person. There are different types of depression, different contributing factors for depression, and symptoms can vary from one person to the next.

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to treating depression, treatment often involves psychotherapy, or a combination of psychotherapy and medication. Below is a look at what these treatments are, how they work, and how long they can take to work.

Psychotherapy
Psychotherapy refers to talking to a mental health professional—such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, or other type of counselor.

The type of mental health professional a person works with will depend on several factors. One factor is the type of therapy being utilized—cognitive behavioral therapy, problem-solving therapy, and family/couples therapy can all be used to treat depression.

The choice of therapy also depends on several factors, including the goals a person wants to achieve in therapy. Each person will have specific goals that are built around what they need and what they are experiencing.

The duration and frequency of psychotherapy sessions will vary depending on the type of therapy and a person’s needs. Some people will attend sessions for a period of weeks or months. Others will continue sessions for longer periods of time.

One of the benefits of psychotherapy is that the effects can be long-lasting after treatment stops.

Antidepressants
If treatment for depression involves taking medication, a person will work with a psychiatrist—a medical doctor who specializes in the treatment of mental health disorders.

The medications used to treat depression are called antidepressants. “Antidepressants” is a broad term that refers to multiple types of medications, and within those types, different drugs given in different doses.

Antidepressants act on chemicals in the brain, altering levels of specific chemicals that are associated with moods and emotions. However, it is not fully understood how antidepressants work and how they alleviate the symptoms of depression.

In some cases, people taking antidepressants will notice an improvement within a few weeks, but it can take 4 to 6 weeks (and in some cases longer) for a person to notice an improvement. People may also need to adjust the dosages and the types of antidepressants they take before finding an approach that works.

If you have been taking an antidepressant medication and do not notice any improvement, talk to your healthcare provider. Discuss how long the medication should take to work, possible reasons that the medication may not be working as intended, and whether it’s time to make a change to your medication.

Is treatment working?
Your best source of information about your treatment will be your healthcare provider. But in order to give you the best care possible for depression, your healthcare provider needs information from you.

If you aren’t already, consider keeping a symptom journal. This can help you keep track of any changes in symptoms, identify any unmet needs in your treatment plan, and help you remember the things that you want to discuss with your healthcare provider.

Article sources open article sources

UpToDate. Patient education: Depression treatment options for adults (Beyond the Basics).
NHS. Symptoms - Clinical depression.
Cleveland Clinic. Depression.
National Institutes of Health. Factors that affect depression risk.
National Institute of Mental Health. Depression.
Mayo Clinic. Depression (major depressive disorder).
Cleveland Clinic. Psychotherapy for Depression.
American Psychological Association. Overcoming depression: How psychologists help with depressive disorders. October 1, 2016.
American Psychological Association. Depression Treatments for Adults.
Emily Guarnotta. What Can You Do If Your Antidepressant Isn’t Helping? GoodRx Health. March 4, 2020.
Mayo Clinic. Antidepressants: Selecting one that's right for you.
NHS. Overview - Antidepressants.
Andrew Chu and Roopma Wadhwa. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. StatPearls. January 11, 2022.
Cleveland Clinic. Depression Medicines.
National Institute for Health and Care Research. A fifth of people, who have no improvement on antidepressants at four weeks, respond if given more time. July 8, 2018.
University of Rochester Medical Center. Journaling for Mental Health.

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