Background: A Dutch cohort of predominantly out-patient DSM-III-R major depressive patients was followed for 3 to 5 years after start of treatment in a psycho-neuro-endocrinological prediction study. The study design permitted description of the course of remissions, relapses and recurrences.
Methods: Pharmacological treatment was standardized, psychotherapy was tailored to the needs of the patient, follow-ups were done monthly until 3 years or more after the initial recruitment.
Results: After 9 months 49% of the patients had reached full remission and 45% were in partial remission. During the following 3 to 5 years 82% of the patients had reached a period of full remission. Sixteen per cent of the patients needed 2 years or more before full remission. A relapse or recurrence rate of 41% within 5 years was found. Patients with residual symptoms relapsed particularly in the first 4 months after remission, while patients without residual symptoms recurred mainly after 12 months after remission. Previous depressive episodes and psychoticism predicted relapse. Psychomotor retardation at inception predicted a longer time to partial remission.
Conclusion: In most cases, major depression is a seriously impairing episodic disease. This is also true for a sample of predominantly out-patients treated at a university clinic.