Is depression selfish? (Are people with depression being selfish?)

In this article we will be answering the question “is depression selfish”. We will also discuss what can lead to people who are affected by depression behave “selfishly”.

Are people with depression being selfish?

People who are struggling with depression are not selfish. They are overwhelmed with the problems that are brought about by their mental illness because of which they cannot attend to the needs of others. 

People with depression- or any other mental illness- struggle physically, emotionally, and cognitively. They are unable to function optimally- be it at work, their responsibilities at home, or their relationships.

When a person with depression is in a depressive episode, they suffer from various symptoms related to the disorder which can cause them to be preoccupied, withdrawn from others, and simply not care about anything else. 

This often reflects in their behaviour towards others- they might stop talking to you, push you away in spite of you trying to help them, they might be irritable and even angry over minor offenses, and even choose to let go of responsibilities- like parenting and keeping a job. 

These changes, especially if the people around them are not aware, can cause a lot of anger, frustration, and hurt in those closest to them. Some might even call their behaviours selfish, especially when people are uneducated about the disorder. 

Let us take a closer look at what makes someone who is depressed different from someone who is behaving selfishly. 

Depression vs selfishness

Selfishness is understood as one’s preoccupation with one’s self- our own advantage, pleasure, and welfare- regardless of other people’s rights and welfare.

When a person is being selfish, they choose to behave in ways that could potentially harm other people, disregard other people’s rights and needs  all for their own gain. 

However when someone is depressed, they also tend to act in ways that might hurt other people and disregard the needs of others. 

The major difference between a person who is selfish versus someone who is acting selfishly because of their depression is that depressed people do not choose to behave selfishly, rather they are compelled to put themselves first because of the symptoms of their mental illness. 

What makes depressed people behave “selfishly”

Depression, like all mental disorders, can be debilitating. It can render a person unfit to live optimally, it can even take away a person’s ability to make rational decisions.

Most importantly, mental illnesses like depression can corrode a relationship and the individuals ability to participate in the relationship due to their symptoms.

Symptoms of depression include:

  • Fatigue and loss of energy
  • Emotional distress
  • Hopelessness and worthlessness
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Anhedonia or apathy
  • Social withdrawal
  • Decrease in libido

All of these symptoms cause dysfunction in various areas of their life, like their social relationship and their occupation. 

They struggle to meet the demands of their daily life and make them incapable of tending to the needs of others or caring for other people- be it their partners, their friends, or their children. 

Because they lack the energy to engage with the world and other people, they can often withdraw from their social circle. People with depression often push their significant others away without explanation, they might cancel plans suddenly, or even quit their jobs.

Their emotional distress can make them irritable and reduce their ability to tolerate slights and discomforts which might cause conflicts with others. 

Apathy towards others and the activities that they once enjoyed can also cause them to not care about other people’s wellbeing. They may remain indifferent to the way you feel because of their behaviour as well. 

They may also be unable to see or accept their struggles and the impact it has on other people which might make them seem extremely selfish. 

People with depression can become so occupied with their thoughts and feelings of worthlessness that they can even consider and attempt suicide which others think it as a selfish thing to do. 

It is unfortunate that many people who are uneducated about the disorder make assumptions of their behaviour which may seem inconsiderate of others. 

The simple truth is, people with depression are incapable of caring for themselves and meeting their own needs which makes the thought of them being considerate of others nearly impossible. 

What can we do about it?

If you are depressed and you find yourself worried about whether you are being too selfish or if you are on the receiving end of someone else’s “selfish” behaviour, here are some things you can do to deal with this predicament.

Practice Kindness

If you have been diagnosed with depression or you are struggling with symptoms of depression, dealing with the guilt that comes with behaving in ways that hurt others starts with being kind to yourself. 

Understand that there are some things you cannot control which makes you behave in ways you normally would not. Most of these behaviours that may seem selfish could be an act of self preservation and protection because of your emotional distress. 

Recognize that you are struggling and that taking care of yourself comes first at this time. Another important thing to be mindful of is that your behaviour or your problem does not make you who you are. 

This is a problem and like all problems, this too can be managed.

If you are someone who is on the receiving end of this seemingly selfish behaviour, be kind. 

Take time to educate yourself of the disorder and understand what people go through when they are depressed. 

More importantly, understand that they are not selfish because they want to be but because they are unable to cope with their distress in more adaptable ways. 

Like all other disorders, depression can be crippling. Be gentle about what they can and cannot do especially when you try to broach the subject with them.


The best way to deal with the hurt and guilt that both parties may be feeling is by sitting down and talking about it. 

Take time to spend time discussing the hurt and the guilt with each other, be mindful of how you communicate and talk about the problem.

Avoid blaming the other party, rather be mindful of what you are trying to say. For either party, make your needs known. 

Even if it is as simple as time and space to cope with your depression or if it is communicating your hurt. Take this time to be honest about what you are feeling and thinking. 

Leave no room for assumptions rather take active effort to be kind and open to the other person’s side of the story.

Set boundaries and respect them

As you communicate, take time to tell the other party about what you need, what your limits are, and what can be done to meet in the middle. 

Setting boundaries include being respectful of the other person’s space- be it emotional or physical. It involves taking time to consider the other person’s limitations by being empathetic. 

Setting boundaries begin with taking responsibility over your emotions and behaviours even when they are causes buy a mental health condition. When you take responsibility, you can take control. 

However this does not mean you take responsibility over how someone else feels, this should be clear to both parties. You can acknowledge the hurt caused by your “selfish” behaviour and work towards setting up strategies that can protect you and them. 

You can also go ahead and discuss your needs and make plans or strategies on how the needs of both parties can be met and what are the consequences if these boundaries are crossed.

This will take honest communication to come up with strategies that both parties agree with and are satisfied with. 


In this guide we answered the question “is depression is selfish?”. We took the timne to explore the difference between selfishness and selfish behaviour caused by depression. We also discussed possoble causes of why a depression person behave “selfishly” and what can be done about unresolved guilt and hurt. 

Frequently asked questions related to “Is depression selfish? (Are people with depression being selfish?)”

Does depression ruin your personality?

While depression can change a person’s behavior during a depressive episode, episodes of depression does not change a person’s personality since personality is persistent over long periods of time. 

Is it selfish to worry?

Individuals who suffer from anxiety, their thoughts and actions are often self consuming. These thoughts and behaviour are driven by intense fears and worry. 

Though the worry can come from a place to protect others, they can become maladaptive when they become extremely controlling of others. 

One can even consider them selfish when these worries cross boundaries and disrupt the lives of others even though one may do it out of love and worry. 

How does depression affect your mindset?

Depression can cause drastic change in the way we think and the beliefs we hold. 

Depression can cause brain fog which might make it difficult to think, concentrate, and focus. 

At the same time, depression can cause a shift in the way we think about ourselves- we might become more critical about ourselves, experience hopelessness and be overwhelmed with feelings of worthlessness. 

Can anxiety make you selfish?

Anxiety causes you to behave selfishly, you might become controlling in an attempt to protect them from your fears. Your anxious thoughts and fears might keep you from being vulnerable and compassionate with others in a bid to protect yourself from hurt and rejection. 

You might push away a person who is trying to help you for fear of them realizing that you are not worthy of their care. These thoughts of worthlessness often arise out of irrational beliefs of oneself. 

You might also change plans without letting other people know and do things that may be perceived as selfish by others. It is important for you to be mindful of your needs and take the courage to communicate it to others so as to avoid misunderstandings. 

How does depression affect a person’s behavior?

The symptoms of depression can impact a person’s thoughts and emotions which can lead to behavioural changes. The disorder impacts a person’s ability to perceive themselves and the world around them, often these perceptions tend to be maladaptive and irrational. 

An outgoing and bubbly person may begin to withdraw from their social circles and become less open to experiences and people. A person who is usually patient can become irritable and snap at people because of their inability to tolerate stressors. 

A driven and motivated person can also become “lazy” because of their lack of energy, inability to concentrate, and inability to experience pleasure for the things they once did.