A Guideline Update for Major Depressive Disorder

The impact of major depressive disorder (MDD) on patients and their families is substantial. MDD adversely affects the patient as well as others, with the most serious complication of a major depressive episode being suicide. The disorder has also been associated with significant medical comorbidity. It can complicate recovery from other medical illnesses. Furthermore, MDD affects patients’ marital, parental, social, and vocational functioning. The disorder is unremitting in about 15% of patients and recurrent in another 35%. Compounding the problem is that treatment is often delayed. These factors highlight the need for changes in the delivery of mental health services to enhance timeliness and quality of care in MDD. With treatment, however, the prognosis associated with MDD is generally good. Most patients will respond to acute treatment, and continuation and maintenance therapy with acutely active treatments has been shown to lower the risk and severity of relapses into depression. Revisiting Previous Guidelines In 2010, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) released a new clinical practice guideline for the treatment of patients with MDD. This document (available online at, the third since guidelines were originally created by the APA for MDD, revises a previous version that was published about a decade ago. “It includes new evidence-based recommendations on the use of antidepressant medications, depression-focused psychotherapies, and somatic treatments, such as electroconvulsive therapy,” says Alan J. Gelenberg, MD, who chaired the workgroup that developed the recommendations. “The guideline also addresses other topics, such as alternative and complementary treatments, treating depression during pregnancy, and strategies for treatment-resistant depression.” It took approximately 5 years to update the APA guidelines, Dr. Gelenberg says. “The update...