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Length of Treatment for MDD: What Doctors May Consider

It’s common to have questions about treating major depressive disorder (MDD). You may wonder: What comes next? When can I expect to feel better? How long do I need to keep taking medication? Or will I have to take it forever? Ultimately, your health care professional is your best source of information.

It may be helpful to know that the American Psychiatric Association (APA) has developed guidelines for your doctor to use when treating MDD. According to the APA guidelines, a full course of MDD treatment can include the acute phase, the continuation phase, and for some patients, the maintenance phase. Depression symptoms can vary from person to person, so these particular phases don’t necessarily apply to everyone being treated for depression.

Since no two people are alike, the length and course of treatment for MDD are different for different people. Talk to your doctor about your treatment goals. Work together to make informed decisions about how long you should continue to take your medication.

The ACUTE PHASE is treating depression with the goal of helping to find relief from symptoms that may interfere with your everyday life. You and your health care professional will work together to find an effective treatment that works for you. This might include prescription medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of both. Choosing the right treatment can involve several factors—including how severe your symptoms are, as well as your own personal preferences.

During the first 4 to 8 weeks of treatment, your doctor will evaluate how you’re responding to treatment, if your symptoms seem to be improving, and how you’re tolerating the medication, including any side effects you may be experiencing.

For those patients who have adequately improved during the acute phase, the APA defines the next stage of treatment as the CONTINUATION PHASE. This phase is recommended to last 4-9 months.

Following the continuation phase, a MAINTENANCE PHASE is recommended for some patients who may benefit from ongoing treatment. If you’re participating in talk therapy, your doctor may encourage you to continue but with reduced frequency. Whether or not your health care professional will recommend that you continue taking medication may depend on several factors. For instance, if you’ve suffered from multiple episodes of depression in the past, how severe your symptoms have been, or the likelihood that your depression symptoms will return.

You should be periodically reassessed by your health care professional to determine the need for continued treatment. Always discuss any side effects or symptoms you are experiencing. And be sure to share any recent changes to your health, as well as any new medication(s) you’re taking.

DISCONTINUATION is when the decision is made to stop treatment. This decision should only be made with your health care professional based on your individual history and needs.

Remember, don’t stop taking your antidepressant without first talking with your health care professional. Your health care professional may want to decrease your dose slowly over a period of time. This is called tapering, and can help reduce side effects (discontinuation symptoms) that may occur when stopping treatment.

This information is for educational purposes only and is not medical advice. Only you and your health care professional can decide on a treatment plan that’s right for you.

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