Learning the Stages of Depression

Learning the Stages of Depression

Stages of depression exist, just like grief. Depression, commonly referred to as major depressive disorder or clinical depression, is a widespread mental health issue in the US. In 2020, about 21 million adults (8.4% of the population) had at least one episode of depression. These episodes can significantly affect people’s daily lives, hindering their ability to work, study, and participate in other activities.

What are the five stages of depression?

Depression impacts people differently, many experts believe that it follows a pattern similar to the stages of grief. The grief cycle, as proposed by Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, consists of five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The stages of depression mirror Kübler-Ross’s stages of grief, but experts modified it to reflect the experience of recognizing one’s depression and accepting treatment.


If a person does not want to accept that depression is possible, they could just reject the idea altogether. Despite the symptoms being present for some time, a person may not be ready, willing, or able to think that they are struggling with depression. They may even accept that although they feel extremely sad, the feeling is temporary and will soon pass. What they may not realize is how long they have been feeling this way and how much of their life is being affected by their low mood. The denial stage is usually short.


Once an individual stops denying their depression, they may experience emotions such as anger or confusion about having to confront the issue. They may also feel distressed about the negative societal attitudes towards mental health issues and the potential difficulty in overcoming depression, which may result in feelings of being unfairly affected.


During the process of accepting a depression diagnosis, a person may resort to bargaining as a coping mechanism. This may involve trying to make deals with a higher power or doing various activities in the hope of making their depression disappear. However, this phase may be fleeting as the individual realizes that their bargaining efforts are not having any impact on their condition.


Once a person understands that bargaining will not resolve their depression, they may enter a phase of intense depression. This can involve feelings of hopelessness and intense sadness, leading to behaviors such as social isolation, neglecting personal and professional responsibilities, experiencing emotional emptiness, and having suicidal thoughts or attempts.


At this stage, the person makes the decision to acknowledge and accept their depression. They may choose to seek professional help, such as treatment through medication, therapy, or working with a mental health expert to develop an effective treatment plan. 

Are stages of depression legitimate?

Similar to the stages of grief, the stages of depression are there to provide a general idea of what individuals with depression may experience. However, not everyone will go through all the stages, and they may not occur in a specific order or follow a linear progression. The duration of each stage may also vary among individuals.

The stages of depression, like the stages of grief, intend to highlight typical experiences that individuals with depression encounter. Not everyone will experience each stage. The order of the stages may vary, and the duration of each stage can also differ based on the person.

However, many psychologists do not have a recognized set of stages for depression. Mental health conditions, including depression, are different and vary greatly from person to person, making it difficult to categorize experiences into stages. Hence, stage theories are not commonly used to describe mental health experiences.

People who struggle with depression often have a negative outlook and thoughts. Thus, if they become aware of the stages of depression and realize they have not gone through one or have skipped a stage, they may feel defeated. This is a limitation of the stages of grief model, as everyone’s experience with grief and depression is unique and different.

What are the common treatments for depression?

If you or a loved one is seeking help for depression, it is important to get a proper diagnosis from a qualified professional. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), if symptoms persist  for a minimum of two weeks, there is a need for a thorough evaluation to conduct the condition. 

The treatments for depression are using a combination of medications, therapy, and other methods. Adopting a healthy lifestyle, including rest, nutritious eating, exercise, and incorporating practices such as yoga and meditation, can also help many people manage depression.

Psychotherapy, like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), also helps you manage your condition. CBT is commonly used for depression and aims to challenge negative thought patterns and behaviors. By promoting clear thinking and linking thoughts to actions, CBT helps many individuals make better decisions for themselves.

Mindshift Psychological Services provides tailored programs for individuals with mental health disorders, including depression. We understand that depression can be difficult to cope with, but you do not have to face it alone. Contact us today to find out more about how we can support you in your journey towards a better life.