Among other effects, depression can sap your motivation and enjoyment, leading to a state of apathy.
Some days leave you feeling “blah.“ Days can feel so routine and uninteresting that you don’t know where the time went.
If those feelings of indifference last longer than a day — even weeks or months — and if things you used to look forward to now feel boring, you might wonder: Am I feeling apathetic, or is this depression?
It can be hard to tell the two apart, but there are some key differences, as well as key solutions.
Apathy refers to a general lack of interest or enthusiasm.
“People who are struggling with apathy are often passive about their situation and may have a flattened affect in response to something that would typically create an emotional response,” explains licensed counselor Jennifer Henry, director of the Counseling Center at Maryville University.
“People who are experiencing apathy may lack energy, motivation to get things done, or desire to act or accomplish goals,” she says.
Someone who is apathetic may also get less excited about things that once delighted them. “They often feel [generally] tired, bored, disinterested, and disengaged in their life, goals, and relationships,” adds Henry.
Apathy could also translate into how you interact with others, such as feeling less compassionate toward friends or less emotionally invested in relationships.
While much of the above sounds similar to depression, it’s important to note that apathy is not the same as depression.
Apathy and depression have a lot in common, such as low energy or a lack of motivation. However, unlike apathy, depression is a psychological condition requiring a diagnosis using a specific set of criteria.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5), for a diagnosis of depression you must experience five or more symptoms of depression (one of which must be either depressed mood or a loss of interest or pleasure — or both) for at least 2 weeks.
The symptoms of major depression include:
Apathy is one possible symptom of depression, but it may not be a part of everyone’s experience with depression.
“A person suffering from depression may experience apathy,” says Henry. “However, the intense emotions accompanying clinical depression may not always be seen in an apathetic person.”
Yes, you can have depression without apathy.
While a loss of interest or pleasure (aka apathy) is one possible symptom of depression, it’s not required for diagnosis. For some, depression could also manifest in other ways, such as anger, addiction, or irritability. These depression symptoms can be more common in men.
Depression could also manifest in intense feelings of worthlessness, constant worrying about life events, or increased sensitivity to rejection or criticism — experiences that are not consistent with apathy.
Risk factors for apathy and depression sometimes overlap, but they don’t always.
“There are numerous things that can contribute to you developing depression, including biological factors (such as a family history of depression), trauma, grief and loss, lack of support or social isolation, significant life events, and experiences that cause you to lose hope for the future,” explains Henry.
Other risk factors for depression include:
- poor nutrition
- chronic (long-term) stress
- medication and substance use
Some risk factors for depression can lead you to feel apathetic as well. Maybe the weight of everything feels too heavy, so you choose to block it out. Or, in another scenario, perhaps you were raised in an environment where you weren’t taught to feel your feelings, and therefore, detachment is your norm.
“Many people go through times when they feel apathetic, and it could be related to life experiences, lack of fulfillment in your job or relationship,” says Henry.
“It could also stem from feeling like you have little control over outcomes in your life, boredom with your daily routine, or not having something to look forward to,“ she says.
There are various treatment options for depression. Talk therapy, medication, and coping tools are some common treatments.
A therapist will work with you to get to the root of what you’re experiencing and help you uncover ways to heal or cope. Therapists can use numerous strategies to help guide your recovery.
Group therapy is another option, or even going to therapy with a partner or family member.
Medication could help you find stability and balance your emotions (or lack thereof). Several antidepressants can help treat depression.
If you’re working through your depression, various self-help tools could help you find relief. From moving your body to tapping into your creativity to getting more sleep, there are tons of options for you to explore. And if one doesn’t work for you, there’s always another tool to try.
If you find that you’re feeling apathetic but not necessarily depressed, “Try to change up your routine if you are feeling bored with the daily grind — try to remember what activities used to bring you joy and fulfillment. Try and find a way to bring that back into your life,” suggests Henry.
“Most importantly, try to show yourself patience and kindness as you work toward feeling better.”
Whether you’re feeling a million heavy emotions at once or none at all, if you’re not feeling like yourself, then you deserve to find a remedy for what you’re experiencing.
From a scale of apathy to feeling a constant state of frenzy, every level of your experience is valid and warrants attention.
Help is available, even if it takes some time to figure out the kind of support that works best for you.
If you’re looking for a therapist to help with depression or any other mental health concerns, Psych Central’s How to Find Mental Health Support resource may help.