Remission and recurrence of depression in the maintenance era: long-term outcome in a Cambridge cohort

Psychol Med. 2003 Jul;33(5):827-38. doi: 10.1017/s003329170300744x.


Background: Long-term studies of severe depression have described high rates of non-recovery, recurrence, chronic incapacity and mortality. A more recent cohort was followed-up to ascertain whether the course had improved given developments in pharmacological and psychological treatments in the last 15 years.

Method: Subjects from a cohort of 70 mainly severe recurrent depressives originally recruited to a shorter follow-up study from 1990-1992 were followed-up after 8-11 years. Data included longitudinal information on course of depression and other psychiatric disorders, pharmacological and psychological treatment and social functioning during follow-up.

Results: Sixty-nine (99%) subjects were successfully followed-up, with 61 of 66 living subjects interviewed and detailed follow-up data obtained in total on 65. Sixty (92%) of 65 subjects recovered during follow-up, with two-thirds subsequently suffering a recurrence. Eleven (17%) suffered from an episode of chronic depression of at least 2 years duration during follow-up. Social function at follow-up was good and there were high levels of pharmacological and psychological treatment. Greater severity of illness was the most consistent predictor of poor outcome. Times to recovery and recurrence and recovery and recurrence rates were very similar to older studies.

Conclusions: The long-term outcome of depression still shows high recurrence rates and does not appear to have changed in the last 20 years.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / epidemiology
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / prevention & control*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Prognosis
  • Secondary Prevention
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Treatment Outcome
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology