The identification, assessment and management of difficult-to-treat depression: An international consensus statement

J Affect Disord. 2020 Apr 15;267:264-282. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2020.02.023. Epub 2020 Feb 7.


Background: Many depressed patients are not able to achieve or sustain symptom remission despite serial treatment trials - often termed "treatment resistant depression". A broader, perhaps more empathic concept of "difficult-to-treat depression" (DTD) was considered.

Methods: A consensus group discussed the definition, clinical recognition, assessment and management implications of the DTD heuristic.

Results: The group proposed that DTD be defined as "depression that continues to cause significant burden despite usual treatment efforts". All depression management should include a thorough initial assessment. When DTD is recognized, a regular reassessment that employs a multi-dimensional framework to identify addressable barriers to successful treatment (including patient-, illness- and treatment-related factors) is advised, along with specific recommendations for addressing these factors. The emphasis of treatment, in the first instance, shifts from a goal of remission to optimal symptom control, daily psychosocial functional and quality of life, based on a patient-centred approach with shared decision-making to enhance the timely consideration of all treatment options (including pharmacotherapy, psychotherapy, neurostimulation, etc.) to optimize outcomes when sustained remission is elusive.

Limitations: The recommended definition and management of DTD is based largely on expert consensus. While DTD would seem to have clinical utility, its specificity and objectivity may be insufficient to define clinical populations for regulatory trial purposes, though DTD could define populations for service provision or phase 4 trials.

Conclusions: DTD provides a clinically useful conceptualization that implies a search for and remediation of specific patient-, illness- and treatment obstacles to optimizing outcomes of relevance to patients.

Keywords: Clinical management; Diagnosis; Difficult-to-treat depression; Treatment-resistant depression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Consensus
  • Depression*
  • Depressive Disorder, Treatment-Resistant*
  • Humans
  • Psychotherapy
  • Quality of Life