What is the goal of depression treatment? At a minimum, treatment should alleviate symptoms. Increasingly, however, people living with depression, their families, and their providers should expect more, that optimal care should result in both abatement of symptoms and recovery of function. That is to say, people with depression should be able to live their lives in a way that is symptom-free and allows them to participate in their chosen life activities and relationships.
There are three commonly-used terms that relate to depression treatment outcomes: response, remission, and recovery. If you’re struggling with depression, the particular labels don’t matter very much. However, as you set your treatment goals and understand the potential lifelong relationship you have with depression, these terms do matter more. (We are not discussing recurrence or relapse in this post, but they are also part of the language of treatment.)
Initially, depression treatment should result in a response, which is improvement that occurs following the start of treatment. There should be movement toward alleviation of symptoms. Everyone moves at their own pace but talk with your provider about when you should be in touch with them if you are not experiencing treatment response.
Remission is achieving a symptom-free state and returning to normal functioning. Many people stop treatment before they reach full remission, leaving them with lingering symptoms – often those related to cognitive dysfunction – or not quite full functioning.
When a person has achieved remission for several months, they have entered into the recovery stage. This isn’t a magic time that all treatment and supports should be abandoned, rather one that the person living with depression can expect to have a more regular experience of good days and bad days and be a more active participant in their life. (It’s important to discuss any treatment changes in advance with your mental health care team.) Recovery is not a single event, but an ongoing process.
In an earlier post, then-Director of the Center for Mental Health Services at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Paolo del Vecchio, M.S.W., noted that “recovery is not only possible, it is the expected outcome of services, supports, and treatment.”
According to SAMHSA, recovery is a “process of change through which people improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives, and strive to reach their full potential.”
Recovery is based on hope and is supported through
- Health—overcoming or managing one’s disease(s) or symptoms and making informed, healthy choices that support physical and emotional well-being.
- Home—having a stable and safe place to live.
- Purpose—conducting meaningful daily activities and having the independence, income, and resources to participate in society.
- Community—having relationships and social networks that provide support, friendship, love, and hope.
It can be very challenging for a person living with depression to envision a time that they will be in recovery, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be a goal for treatment. Your goals can also help determine the course of treatment, such as if a particular type of psychotherapy is more appropriate than another. Talk with your provider about your treatment goals and what wellness means to you.
Resources and readings
- P. Del Vecchio, Defining Recovery: From Mental Health Consumer to Policymaker
- S. Parikh, Depression Costs the Country Billions in Lost Productivity. It’s Time We Started Helping People Get Back to Work
- J. Petit, How’s Work Going for Your? Your Mental Health Provider Should Be Asking
- SAMHSA, Recovery Is Possible
- C.L. Battle et al., Treatment Goals of Depressed Outpatients: A Qualitative Investigation of Goals Identified by Participants in a Depression Treatment Trial
- Online Depression Wellness Analyzer from Families for Depression Awareness
What do you think?
What kinds of goals – short and long term – have you or a loved one set for treatment? Did they get recorded in a treatment plan? What do you think should have happened and how would that have benefited you?
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