Over the past few decades, theory and research on depression have increasingly focused on the recurrent and chronic nature of the disorder. These recurrent and chronic forms of depression are extremely important to study, as they may account for the bulk of the burden associated with the disorder. Paradoxically, however, research focusing on depression as a recurrent condition has generally failed to reveal any useful early indicators of risk for recurrence. We suggest that this present impasse is due to the lack of recognition that depression can also be an acute, time-limited condition. We argue that individuals with acute, single lifetime episodes of depression have been systematically eclipsed from the research agenda, thereby effectively preventing the discovery of factors that may predict who, after experiencing a first lifetime episode of depression, goes on to have a recurrent or chronic clinical course. Greater awareness of the high prevalence of people with a single lifetime episode of depression, and the development of research designs that identify these individuals and allow comparisons with those who have recurrent forms of the disorder, could yield substantial gains in understanding the lifetime pathology of this devastating mental illness.