Difference between apathy and depression

In this article we will discuss if apathy and depression are the same thing, what’s the difference, what is apathy and what is depression.

Are apathy and depression the same thing?

No, apathy and depression are not the same. Depression may have the features of apathy and apathy can be seen in many other disorders too. 

Depression and apathy are two prevalent neuropsychiatric illnesses that are frequently found together in distinct syndromes and overlap similar symptoms.

Both of these illnesses have similar core symptoms, and this might be confusing.

In the presence of neurological illness, depression and apathy are common symptoms. Apathy and depression may be the earliest signs of numerous neurodegenerative conditions, including frontotemporal dementia (FTD), Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease (AD), and subcortical dementia, and may precede cognitive impairment.

Although both depression and apathy are defined by a lack of initiative and interest in daily tasks, these illnesses can be distinguished based on cognitive and emotional characteristics. Subjects who are apathetic are unconcerned about their health and do not complain. They have a flattened affect and show no emotional response to a situation that should inspire feeling.

Patients who are depressed are uncomfortable in social situations and intentionally avoid them. They are depressed, despondent, guilty, and lacking in self-esteem. They are pessimistic, have had many close calls with death, and are capable of committing suicide.

Sleep abnormalities, such as hypersomnia or insomnia, and weight changes are reported by both apathetic and depressed people. These symptoms are frequently associated with depressive disorders, although they can also be found in neurological conditions. As a result, when there is a decrease in motivation, we must distinguish between an “apathetic syndrome” and the symptom “apathy” that occurs in depression.  

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), depression is a mental state marked by sorrow, despair, anhedonia, and a loss of interest in daily activities, as well as a subjective impression of discomfort, thoughts of worthlessness, and a lack of self-esteem.

 As a result, while apathy can be a symptom of depression in the sense that it causes a lack of enthusiasm and interest in all or most daily tasks, it may also be a distinct clinical concept.

Apathy is characterised by a lack of interest and motivation, but not melancholy or depression. Apathy is defined by a lack of drive that manifests as a difficulty performing voluntary actions and a reduction in goal-oriented behaviour 

 This disorder results in a lack of interest in the environment, as well as a failure to respond emotionally to external stimuli, yet there are no unpleasant sensations or feelings of despair. Both depression and apathy, according to the DSM-V, cause clinically substantial impairment in essential areas of functioning.

Affective changes differ between neurological and depressed people in some ways. Apathy and irritability are common symptoms of neurodegenerative disorders, and patients rarely express feelings of grief, desperation, or low self-esteem.

 Along with behavioural and mood abnormalities, cognitive deficits, such as impairments in planning, inhibition, and working memory, are frequently present in neurological disease, particularly in the early stages of the disease. 

Despite the fact that depression and apathy can coexist in the same patient, some research suggests that they can be distinguished. Depression can be interpreted as a “response” to a diagnosis of neurodegenerative illnesses, especially when the individual is aware of their symptoms.

Apathy and depression are the most common behavioural signs in Alzheimer’s disease, and it’s difficult to tell them apart. Isolated apathy is common in the moderate stages of the disease. The first indicators of Frontotemporal dementia include behavioural and psychological changes such as apathy, unrestrained behaviours, aggression, and agitation. 

Subjects may be tired and unmotivated, but their self-esteem remains intact. Self-esteem is rarely sustained in depression, and the individual typically feels guilty and appears to be depreciating themselves. Apathy is more common than depression in dementia, according to some experts, regardless of the cause. 

Apathy and depression may be caused by damage to various cellular networks that connect different sections of the brain in dementia. In reality, the same brain malfunction that causes neurological symptoms impacts the parts of the brain that control mood. 

These networks are involved in the changes, and they are responsible for motivation, planning, judgement, and insight. Different parts of the brain are involved in these systems, including the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and subcortical regions like the basal ganglia.

 In reality, apathy is a prevalent symptom of Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases.

A similar appearance can be seen in illnesses involving neurochemical abnormalities in dopamine transmission. In reality, dopamine is primarily responsible for controlling pleasure, reward, motivation, and goal-directed behaviour.

Apathy has received less attention in the literature than depression, yet it is vital to separate the two illnesses in terms of aetiology and treatment.

Side Note: I have tried and tested various products and services to help with my anxiety and depression. See my top recommendations here, as well as a full list of all products and services our team has tested for various mental health conditions and general wellness.

Understanding Apathy 

Apathy is a lack of enthusiasm in daily activities or social interactions. It can have an impact on your capacity to hold down a career, establish relationships, and enjoy life.

Apathy is something that everyone goes through from time to time. You could feel unmotivated or uninterested in your everyday chores at times. This kind of situational apathy is rather common.

Apathy, on the other hand, can be a sign of a variety of neurological and mental diseases. It’s also possible that it’s a syndrome. If you have a chronic ailment and don’t address it, it can get worse.


Researchers identified and described various subtypes of apathy in 2019.

Emotional apathy is a state in which both happy and negative feelings are absent.

A lack of self-initiated actions is a sign of behavioural apathy

General apathy is defined by a lack of motivation, inadequate emotional responses, and a lack of social engagement.

Symptoms of Apathy 

Apathy manifests itself in the following ways:

  • Completing routine tasks is difficult.
  • Irrational feelings of indifference
  • Lack of interest in activities due to a lack of emotion
  • Goals aren’t being met because of a lack of motivation.
  • Low levels of energy
  • Participation in activities has decreased.
  • Unemotional in both positive and negative situations

What causes it?

Frontal lobe lesions were discovered in the brains of persons with apathetic symptoms in a 2011 study. The apathetic centre of the brain is thought to be in the front of the brain. A stroke that affects this area of the brain might cause apathy.

Apathy can occur even when there is no underlying medical problem.

Teenagers are prone to feeling apathetic at times. It usually goes away with time. However, in teens, long-term emotional detachment and apathy are not normal.

Some other conditions that may cause apathy are:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fronto-temporal dementia
  • Progressive supranuclear palsy
  •  Parkinson’s disease
  • Schizophrenia
  • Stroke

What does it feel like?

If you’re apathetic, you could feel a lack of enthusiasm or motivation. It can have an impact on your conduct and your ability to execute daily tasks.

Apathy is characterised by a lack of motivation to start, finish, or achieve anything. Low energy levels are also a possibility.

It’s possible that your emotions, motivation, and willingness to act have dwindled. Activities or activities that ordinarily pique your interest may elicit little or no reaction.

Apathy can lead to a lack of interest in a variety of activities. When you meet new people or try new things, you may be uninterested. You can be uninterested in activities or dealing with personal difficulties.

It’s possible that your facial expressions don’t alter. You could show a lack of effort, forethought, and emotional reaction. You might also spend more time alone.

Apathy can make it difficult to maintain personal relationships and perform successfully at work or school.

Although apathy can be a symptom of depression, it is not the same as depression. Depression might also make you feel hopeless and guilty. Substance abuse and suicide are two serious dangers associated with depression.


Apathy treatments vary depending on the underlying causes. People with general sentiments of apathy may be able to manage them through lifestyle modifications and self-care, but symptoms caused by underlying medical or psychological disorders must be addressed by a healthcare specialist. Medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two may be used to treat a variety of ailments.

Your doctor may prescribe drugs to treat apathy produced by progressing neurodegenerative illnesses in order to alleviate these symptoms.


The following are some examples of drugs that may be used to treat illnesses that have apathy as a symptom:

  • Antidepressants
  • Antipsychotics
  • Stimulants


When apathy is linked to a disorder like depression or anxiety, your doctor may suggest psychotherapy. CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) is one method for addressing the underlying ideas and actions that may contribute to feelings of apathy and low motivation.

Understanding depression

Depression is a type of mental illness. It’s marked by feelings of sadness, loss, or resentment that interfere with day-to-day activity.

For different people, depression expresses itself in a variety of ways. It could cause disturbances in your daily routine, resulting in missed time and lower productivity. It can also affect relationships as well as some chronic conditions.

Depression, if left untreated, can have serious consequences for both your mental and physical health.

Read more about depression here 


Depression displays itself in a variety of ways for various people. Some people have only a few symptoms, while others have a slew of them. Some symptoms may improve with time, while others may deteriorate.

It’s critical to collaborate with your mental health care team to understand which depression symptoms you’re experiencing and the best way to treat them. There are several symptoms or qualities that are prevalent among persons who suffer from clinical depression, as well as the many subtypes.

Some of the symptoms are as follows :

  • Sadness and a sense of emptiness
  • Loss of interest in hobbies, job, and other pursuits
  • Changes in appetite, weight loss or increase
  • Sleeping problems (too much or too little)
  • Feeling “slowed down” or agitated excessively
  • Fatigue, exhaustion, and a lack of energy
  • Physical signs and symptoms, include pain (such as body aches, stomach upset, headaches)
  • Feelings of inadequacy or guilt
  • Concentration or attention problems
  • Decision-making incapacity or poor decision-making
  • Suicide planning or attempt; thinking about death or dying

To summarise, the link between apathy and depression appears to be complex, yet it is critical for distinguishing these illnesses. It’s crucial since pharmacological methods can differ, and certain medicines used to treat depression can exacerbate apathy symptoms. In every scenario, combining pharmaceutical and nonpharmacological interventions is the superior option.


In this article we discussed if apathy and depression are the same thing, what is apathy, it’s symptoms, types, what causes it and it’s treatment. We also covered what depression is and it’s symptoms. 

What we recommend for Depression

Professional counselling

If you are suffering from depression then ongoing professional counselling could be your ideal first point of call. Counselling will utilize theories such as Cognitive behavioural therapy which will help you live a more fulfilling life.


Is apathy the same as depression? 

Although apathy can be a symptom of depression, it is not the same as depression. Depression might also make you feel hopeless and guilty. Substance abuse and suicide are two serious dangers associated with depression.

Is apathy considered a mental illness?

When you lack drive to do anything or don’t care about what’s going on around you, you’re said to be apathetic. Mental health issues, Parkinson’s illness, and Alzheimer’s disease can all cause apathy. It frequently lasts for a long time. You may lack the motivation to perform anything that requires you to think or feel.

How do you know when someone is apathetic? 

Following are some of the signs :

  • Completing routine tasks is difficult.
  • Irrational feelings of disinterest.
  • Emotional deficiency.
  • A lack of enthusiasm for activities.
  • Goals are not being met due to a lack of motivation.
  • Low levels of energy
  • Participation in activities has decreased.
  • Unemotional in both favourable and negative situations

Is apathy a syndrome?

Apathy is characterised as a syndrome of primary motivational loss, which is defined as a lack of motivation that is not caused by emotional discomfort, intellectual disability, or a reduced degree of consciousness.





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