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19 min read

Why Does Depression Come and Go?

Written by Klarity Editorial Team

Published: Dec 11, 2023

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Zoe Russell

Table of contents

Depression is a mental health condition that affects millions of people worldwide, often puzzling both those who experience its symptoms and their loved ones due to its fluctuating nature. Unlike many physical illnesses with clear and consistent symptoms, depression can ebb and flow based on several internal and external factors, leaving individuals grappling with periods of intense emotional pain interspersed with phases of relative calm. 

In this blog, we explore the question, “why does depression come and go,” examining its common symptoms, the cyclical pattern it often follows, and the various factors that contribute to its onset and recurrence. This comprehensive guide from Klarity aims to provide a deeper understanding of this complex condition and offers practical advice on managing its unpredictable course.

If you or someone you know is experiencing bouts of depression and have yet to seek treatment, find a provider on Klarity today and meet with one of the many mental health professionals who are ready to diagnose and treat your symptoms of depression whenever they materialize.

Common Symptoms of Depression

Depression manifests through a spectrum of depression symptoms, each varying in intensity and impact. Central to this condition is a persistent sadness or emptiness that seems to cloud every aspect of life. This is often accompanied by anhedonia, a term for the loss of interest or pleasure in activities once found enjoyable, leading to a withdrawal from social interactions and hobbies. 

Physical symptoms are equally telling, with many experiencing significant changes in appetite, leading to fluctuating weight loss or gain and disrupted sleep patterns, including insomnia or excessive sleeping. Chronic fatigue, a sense of worthlessness or excessive guilt, and difficulties with concentration or decision-making are also common. These symptoms collectively erode an individual’s ability to function in daily life. In more severe cases, persistent thoughts of death or suicide emerge, necessitating immediate medical attention. 

Early recognition and intervention of these symptoms of depression are vital for effective treatment and recovery, emphasizing the importance of awareness and understanding of this complex condition.

The Cyclical Nature of Depression

The course of depression is rarely linear. It often exhibits a cyclical pattern, which can be perplexing and challenging for those who are affected. Individuals may experience episodes of acute depression, marked by intense and debilitating symptoms, followed by periods where symptoms lessen or even disappear, known as remission. 

This fluctuating pattern can be influenced by a myriad of factors. Stress, whether chronic or acute, is a significant trigger, often precipitating depressive episodes. Environmental factors, including changes in season or exposure to prolonged adverse conditions, can also play a role. Personal life circumstances, such as major life transitions or ongoing challenges, further contribute to this cycle. 

Understanding the cyclical nature of depression is crucial. It enables individuals and their support networks to recognize early warning signs of an impending depressive episode and take proactive steps toward intervention. This knowledge also brings a measure of hope, as periods of remission provide opportunities for recovery and management of the condition to build upon.

Depressive Episodes vs. Persistent Depressive Disorder

Navigating your depression effectively as it comes and goes requires an understanding of its various forms, particularly the distinction between depressive episodes and persistent depressive disorder. Depressive episodes are characterized by intense, often debilitating periods of depression that come and go. In contrast, persistent depressive disorder, formerly known as dysthymia, involves a chronic, low-grade depressive mood that lasts for years.

Seasonal Depression

Seasonal depression, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), is a form of depression that corresponds with seasonal changes, most commonly beginning in the late fall and continuing through the winter months. This condition is believed to be triggered by reduced exposure to sunlight, which can disrupt your body’s internal clock or circadian rhythm, leading to feelings of depression. The lack of sunlight can also cause a drop in serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood, and an imbalance in melatonin, which influences sleep patterns and mood. 

Symptoms of SAD often mirror those of major depression, including feelings of sadness, loss of interest in activities, fatigue, and changes in sleep and appetite. However, SAD may also be characterized by specific features such as oversleeping, overeating (particularly with a craving for carbohydrates), weight gain, and social withdrawal. Light therapy, which involves exposure to a bright light that mimics natural outdoor light, is a common treatment for SAD, along with traditional depression therapies like psychotherapy and medication.

Situational Depression (Adjustment Disorder)

Situational depression occurs in response to a specific event or situation, such as a significant life change, traumatic event, or a series of stressful occurrences. Unlike other forms of depression, situational depression is directly related to a specific event and is usually temporary, resolving as the individual adapts to the new situation. Symptoms can include overwhelming sadness, anxiety, listlessness, and a loss of enjoyment in life — mirroring those of major depression but typically less severe. However, these symptoms can significantly impair one’s ability to function in daily life. 

Coping strategies for situational depression include seeking support from friends and family, participating in activities that bring joy, and, if necessary, seeking professional help through therapy or counseling. In many cases, situational depression improves as the person develops new coping mechanisms and adjusts to their new circumstances, although it can evolve into a more serious form of depression if left unaddressed.

Triggers and Stressors That May Induce Depression

Understanding the triggers and stressors that can induce depression is crucial in both the prevention and management of this complex mental health condition. Depression does not arise in a vacuum; it is often triggered by specific events or ongoing circumstances that overwhelm an individual’s ability to cope. This section delves into the varied and often interconnected factors that can bring about depression, ranging from acute stressful events to chronic environmental pressures. 

By identifying and exploring these triggers, such as personal loss, relationship difficulties, hormonal changes, and substance abuse, we can gain a deeper understanding of how depression takes root and evolves, empowering those affected to recognize early signs and seek timely support.

Stressful Events

Stressful life events — such as unexpected job loss or a serious health diagnosis — can act as significant triggers for depressive episodes. These events create a sense of upheaval and helplessness, overwhelming an individual’s coping mechanisms. The stress response, while normal, can become prolonged or intense, leading to symptoms of depression such as persistent sadness, fatigue, and loss of interest in regular daily activities. 

Additionally, chronic stress can lead to changes in brain chemistry and hormone balance, further contributing to the development of depression. Recognizing the impact of these stressors and seeking appropriate support (including therapy, stress management techniques, and, if necessary, medication) can be crucial in preventing the escalation of these events into a depressive episode.

Grief and Loss

The emotional impact of losing a loved one – whether through death, separation, or estrangement – can be profound and trigger a period of grief that may evolve into depression. This transition from normal grief to a depressive disorder involves an escalation of grief symptoms, such as deep sadness, guilt, and a sense of worthlessness, often accompanied by a loss of interest in the outside world and activities that were previously enjoyed. 

While grief is a natural response to loss, when the feelings of despair and hopelessness become overwhelming and persistent, it may indicate the development of depression. Professional support, including counseling and support groups, can provide valuable help in navigating this challenging time and in distinguishing between normal grief and a depressive disorder.

Relationship Drama

Conflicts and turmoil in personal relationships, be it with a spouse, family members, or close friends, can become significant emotional stressors that trigger depressive symptoms. Relationship difficulties can lead to feelings of insecurity, loneliness, and a diminished sense of self-worth, contributing to the onset of depression. 

The constant stress of a troubled relationship, especially where there is a lack of communication or support, can exacerbate these feelings, leading to a cycle of depression. Seeking relationship counseling, individual therapy, or support from trusted individuals can be crucial steps in addressing the underlying issues and mitigating their impact on one’s mental health.

Hormonal Changes

Hormonal fluctuations, which can occur during periods of life such as puberty, pregnancy, postpartum, and menopause, are known to influence mood and can contribute to the onset of depression. These hormonal changes can affect neurotransmitter systems in the brain that regulate mood, leading to more severe symptoms of depression. 

For example, postpartum depression is linked to the rapid hormonal changes following childbirth, and the mood fluctuations experienced during menopause are often attributed to declining estrogen levels. Awareness of these risks and monitoring mood changes during these periods are critical. Treatment options may include hormone therapy, lifestyle changes, counseling, and, when appropriate, antidepressant medications.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse, whether that be the misuse of alcohol, prescription medications, or illegal drugs, can both be a symptom of existing depression and a trigger for its development. Substances can alter brain chemistry and may temporarily mask symptoms of depression, but many times, they amplify them in the long run. 

Substance abuse complicates depression treatment and recovery, as it can interfere with the effectiveness of depression medications and therapy. Addressing substance abuse is often an integral part of treating co-occurring depression, involving specialized therapy, support groups, and treatment programs that focus on both issues concurrently.

Why wait to prioritize your mental health? Get started toward a happier, healthier life today.

Factors Contributing to the Onset of Depression

The onset of depression is seldom attributed to a single cause; rather, it is the result of a complex interplay of various factors that intertwine and influence each other. In this section, we explore what contributes to the development of depression, including genetic predispositions, biochemical imbalances in the brain, psychological factors, and environmental influences. 

Each of these elements plays a unique role in predisposing an individual to depression or triggering its onset. By understanding these varying factors, we can gain a more comprehensive perspective on how depression emerges, paving the way for more targeted and effective approaches to prevention and treatment.

Genetic Predispositions 

The role of genetics in depression is a significant factor in understanding its onset. Research indicates that individuals with a family history of depression are at a higher risk of developing the condition themselves. This genetic predisposition does not guarantee that depression will occur, but it increases susceptibility, especially when combined with other risk factors. 

Genetic influences on depression are complex and involve the interaction of multiple genes. Studies of twins and families have shown that if one identical twin has depression, the other has a 70% chance of experiencing the condition at some point in life. Understanding one’s family history can be key to early recognition and intervention strategies.

Neurotransmitter Imbalances 

Neurotransmitters, the brain’s chemical messengers, play a crucial role in mood regulation and are closely linked to the development of depression. Imbalances in key neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine are commonly associated with depressive symptoms. Serotonin, often referred to as the ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter, is particularly important in regulating mood, appetite, and sleep – all of which are disrupted in depression. 

Dopamine, associated with motivation and reward, is also implicated in the pathophysiology of depression. Treatments for depression, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), work by correcting these imbalances, highlighting the importance of neurotransmitter regulation in managing the condition.

Psychological Factors 

Psychological factors play a profound role in the development of depression. Personal history, including experiences of trauma, abuse, or neglect, can significantly impact an individual’s mental health. Ongoing stress, whether from work, relationships, or other sources, can also contribute to the onset of depression, particularly in individuals with other predisposing factors. 

The way an individual perceives and reacts to these stresses, shaped by personality traits and coping mechanisms, can influence their vulnerability to depression. Cognitive factors, such as negative thinking patterns and low self-esteem, are significant contributors and are often addressed in cognitive-behavioral therapies.

Environmental influences

Environmental factors play a crucial role in the risk and severity of depression. Socioeconomic status, for instance, can influence access to resources like quality healthcare and support systems, thereby impacting mental health. Exposure to violence, whether in the community or within the home, is a significant stressor that can lead to depressive symptoms. 

Chronic physical illnesses can also contribute to the development of depression, both through the direct physiological effects of the disease and the psychological impact of dealing with a chronic condition. Understanding these environmental risk factors is crucial in providing comprehensive care and support to individuals at risk of or suffering from depression.

Managing Depression and Treatment Options

Effective management of depression requires a multifaceted approach tailored to the unique needs of each individual. From the use of medications like antidepressants to various forms of therapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy and counseling, the range of treatments is broad and evolving. Additionally, we’ll explore the importance of lifestyle modifications and the support of a strong, empathetic network. Understanding these options is crucial for those navigating the challenging path of depression, providing hope and direction in the journey toward getting back to yourself again.

Medications That Can Help

Medications, particularly antidepressants, play a pivotal role in the management of depression for many individuals. These medications alter the brain’s chemistry, particularly the neurotransmitters implicated in mood regulation. There are several classes of antidepressants, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). Each class works differently and may be more suitable for certain individuals depending on their specific symptoms and medical history. It’s important to note that these medications often take several weeks to show their full effect and may require dosage adjustments to find the most effective regimen with the fewest side effects. Collaboration with a mental health professional is paramount in finding the right medication and monitoring its efficacy and safety.

How Therapy Could Work For You

Therapy offers a vital avenue for managing and understanding depression, providing a safe space to explore feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, one of the most effective forms of therapy for depression, focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to depressive symptoms. 

Other therapeutic approaches include psychodynamic therapy, which explores how past experiences influence present emotions and behaviors, and interpersonal therapy, which focuses on improving communication skills and relationships. Therapy can be conducted in various formats, including individual, group, or family sessions, and can be tailored to address specific issues such as trauma or substance abuse. 

Lifestyle Changes

Adopting healthy lifestyle habits can significantly support mental health and aid in managing depression. Regular physical exercise improves physical health and has mood-boosting benefits, thanks to the release of endorphins, known as ‘feel-good’ hormones. A balanced diet, rich in nutrients, can also positively affect brain health and mood. 

Sleep is another critical factor. Quality sleep helps regulate mood, improve brain function, and reduce stress. Mindfulness practices, such as meditation and yoga, are also considered beneficial in reducing symptoms of depression by promoting relaxation and mental clarity. Making these lifestyle changes can complement other treatments for depression, contributing to overall well-being and quality of life.

Relying on Your Support System

A robust support system is invaluable in the journey through depression. Talking with friends, family, or support groups offers emotional comfort, understanding, and practical assistance during difficult times. Sharing experiences with others who understand can alleviate feelings of isolation and provide a sense of community and belonging. Family and friends can also play a role in encouraging treatment adherence, providing motivation, and helping monitor changes in symptoms. 

Additionally, in-person or online support groups offer a platform to share experiences and coping strategies and provide mutual support. This social support is an integral component of a comprehensive approach to managing depression, enhancing the effectiveness of other treatments, and fostering resilience and recovery.

Depression vs. Bipolar Disorder?

Distinguishing between depression and bipolar disorder is essential for effective treatment as these conditions, despite being related, require different management approaches. Major depressive disorder, commonly known as depression, is characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, loss of interest in activities, and various other symptoms that affect a person’s ability to function. 

In contrast, bipolar disorder is marked by extreme mood swings, ranging from depressive lows to manic or hypomanic highs. During manic episodes, individuals may experience elevated mood, increased energy, decreased need for sleep, grandiosity, and often engage in risky behavior. Hypomania is similar but less severe and does not include psychotic symptoms. These mood swings can be severe and abrupt in bipolar I disorder or more gradual in bipolar II disorder. 

Recognizing these differences is important, as bipolar disorder often requires a different treatment strategy, including mood stabilizers and antipsychotic medications, in addition to the approaches used in treating depression.

Meet With a Provider on Klarity To Prevent Your Depression From Continuing

Klarity provides a seamless and accessible platform for individuals experiencing depression to connect with specialized healthcare providers online. Recognizing the need for timely and personalized care, the providers of Klarity offer an array of mental healthcare services that cater to the diverse needs of those struggling with depression. 

Through Klarity, you can easily find and meet with clinicians who are well-versed in diagnosing and treating depression, ensuring that you receive the care best suited to your specific symptoms and circumstances. Klarity facilitates convenient access to professional support, from initial consultation to ongoing management, helping to alleviate symptoms and prevent the continuation of depression. 

By streamlining the process of finding and receiving mental health care, Klarity plays a vital role in improving access to effective depression treatment, paving the way for recovery and improved quality of life. Take our free assessment and find a provider on Klarity today.


Jones, Heather. “9 Common Depression Triggers (and How to Manage Them).” Very Well Health. https://www.verywellhealth.com/depression-triggers-5215194

New England Medical Group. “Why Does My Depression Come and Go?” 


The Mayo Clinic. “Persistent Depressive Disorder.”


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All professional services are provided by independent private practices via the Klarity technology platform. Klarity Health, Inc. does not provide any medical services.
If you’re having an emergency or in emotional distress, here are some resources for immediate help: Emergency: Call 911. National Suicide Prevention Hotline: Call 988. Crisis Text Line: Text Home to 741-741
(855) 975-3008

PO Box 5098 Redwood City, CA 94063

100 Broadway Street, Redwood City CA, 94063

If you’re having an emergency or in emotional distress, here are some resources for immediate help: Emergency: Call 911. National Suicide Prevention Hotline: Call 988. Crisis Text Line: Text Home to 741-741
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