Spontaneous Remission Occurs in Majority of Depression Cases

Spontaneous remission refers to the achievement of subclinical levels of physical or psychological symptoms of a specific condition without the aid of psychological, medical, or pharmacological treatment. In depression, spontaneous remission has been the topic of recent research, with an emphasis on the role and necessity of treatment. Some research has suggested that intervention is not necessary to achieve remission in all cases, while other research has underscored the importance of mental health treatment for depression.

To explore this issue further, Harvey A. Whiteford of the Policy and Evaluation Group at the Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research in Australia recently conducted an analysis on 19 existing studies to determine the rate of spontaneous remission in untreated major depression. Whiteford found looked at adults, children, and elderly individuals with depression that were waitlisted or who served as controls in clinical studies. He evaluated remission based on symptom severity over a one year period.

The results revealed that 23% of adults will experience remission of depression without treatment in three months, 32% in six months and 53% in a year. Whiteford found that children and adolescents were more likely to achieve remission without treatment than adults. They also achieved remission sooner than adults did during the 12-month period.

When symptom severity was examined, it was revealed that individuals with severe symptoms were 25% less likely to remit than those with only mild symptoms of depression. Factors that affect symptom severity, along with personal treatment preferences and barriers to treatment, could also affect remission and choice to treat. Although not explored in this study, these factors should be examined in future work.

The findings presented here provide new direction for clinicians working with depressed clients. The results support a wait and see approach for treating some cases of depression, and in particular, cases with mild and moderate symptoms. Doing so could make critical resources more available to high risk clients.

Whiteford added, “Resources should be directed towards those with greatest need, for example those experiencing more severe depression and those whose symptoms are likely to persist or reoccur.” These findings are novel and because this research is a relatively new avenue of exploration, these results should be further validated before suggestions are fully implemented in clinical settings.

Whiteford, H. A., et al. (2013). Estimating remission from untreated major depression: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychological Medicine 43.8 (2013): 1569-85. ProQuest. Web.

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  • Todd

    September 13th, 2013 at 10:56 AM

    I think that this is taking an awfully big chance, counting on the fact that someone will aponateously go into remission with no real proof that this will actually happen. So this happens to a large percentage of people. But what about the people that this doesn’t happen with? What about those who sit around and never receive any sort of treatment and get worse and worse? What are they supposed to do? Twiidle their thumbs and hope for the best? No, I think that the message clearly needs to be that while this happens for some people the real solution for most is to still seek out some form of treatment and therapy. I don’t know too many people who are ever going to say that therapy was a bad thing for them, most are onyl going to say how good it made them feel after completion. I don’t think that this is necessarily being irresponsible, I just think that this could give some people who are looking for a little false hope just what they are looking for, an excuse to sit by idly when what they really need to be doing is getting some help.

  • gena

    September 14th, 2013 at 4:51 AM

    It’s one thing to have mild depression and try to let that run it’s course. But if the symptoms are pretty severe I think it is wise to seek the help of a professional.

    Or if you see that the family member is unable to ask for help for himself them maybe it’s time to step in try to get some help for him. This might be something beyond what he is able to do right now for himself but he might seriously need the help. I would rather play it safe.

  • Michael O.

    September 14th, 2013 at 12:57 PM

    This is not new information; it replicates previous studies showing “spontaneous” (a poor word because it implies there are no systematic factors at work) remission of depression. What is troubling is the author’s conclusion that these results support a “wait and see” therapeutic attitude. Since this study does not compare untreated people with treated, it can make no such inference.

  • Leigh

    September 16th, 2013 at 3:53 AM

    I agree with Michael O.
    I am not sure that for most depressed individuals a wait and see approach actually is for the best.
    I would be far too fearful that this would not be enough, that this would not solve the issues they are dealing with, and that they could become even sicker if they received no intervention at all.

  • tony s.

    October 17th, 2014 at 12:34 PM

    This is a good approach to treating the mentally ill but in reality if someone says that they want to kill themselves or someone else it leaves the parents no choice but to treating the illness.it has to do with liability for the community.

  • Steve

    June 30th, 2017 at 6:26 AM

    Hi! I have a question?? I have a friend, that’s done drugs all her life, and been in trouble with the law, she said she was born without fear and she had to feed her need for excitement through out her life, now that she’s in her 40s she says she has fear and it has changed her. her dad is a psychologist, and he said there is a name for someone drastically changes in there 40s, he said it was called spontaneous remission, is this possible, that a drug addict that’s done drugs all her life, and just all of a sudden, just has no desire to use again??

  • Nozipho

    December 12th, 2020 at 10:37 PM

    In 2012,I underwent a spontaneous remission.I was mentally aggressive for 8 years I had night mares,and slot of remose along with unforgines in my life, painful childhood memories,but one day I changed my environment and in 3 months to 6months,I was healed without any madication,only now after 7 years,I can feel a cannot go through pressure and continues challenges,I bruese easily mentally

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