Depression is a mental health condition that can sap a person’s motivation and enjoyment, leaving them with feelings of apathy and emptiness.

It is common for people to experience shifts in mood, but if an individual has extended feelings of indifference or low mood, they may have depression. However, feelings of apathy can also be a symptom of other mental health conditions, Parkinson’s disease, or Alzheimer’s disease. Therefore, anyone feeling apathetic for extended periods should seek a doctor’s advice.

This article looks at apathy and depression in more detail and explains what someone should do if they are experiencing these mental health problems.

Person standing by a wall with apathy and depressionShare on Pinterest
Ivan Andrianov/Stocksy

It is not uncommon for people with depression to feel apathetic, but apathy and depression are different conditions.

Depression is a mood disorder that results in persistent feelings of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness. Other symptoms may include sleep disturbances, energy and appetite changes, guilty feelings, and suicidal thoughts. Conversely, people with apathy lack interest in or motivation for the activities that they usually enjoy.

Many people living with depression also experience apathy, but apathy is not the same as depression. Although some individuals with depression may experience decreased motivation, lower energy than usual, and difficulty expressing emotion, these symptoms are not universal.

Depression is a potentially serious mental health condition that can require medical treatment. Apathy alone may not require treatment, but it is important to talk with a doctor if the symptoms are persistent. In some cases, apathy may be a sign of another health condition, such as Parkinson’s disease, dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease.

The causes of apathy may not be immediately apparent. It can be the result of a physical health condition, a symptom of a mental health condition, or a side effect of medication.

Health conditions that have a link to apathy include:

Dysfunction in specific areas of the brain can cause feelings of apathy. There is evidence that apathy involves the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and ventral striatum, which are key brain areas controlling emotions, goals, and behaviors.

Apathy may also occur because an individual has experienced trauma. The American Psychological Association notes that apathy syndrome — which the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition does not recognize as an official diagnosis — is a pattern of emotional indifference that can develop in people who have experienced catastrophes and other trauma. People may detach themselves emotionally to protect themselves from further stress.

A person with apathy may not have any desire to engage in activities that previously gave them pleasure. As a result, they may lose interest and motivation in work, hobbies, or socializing.

Other symptoms of apathy may include:

  • difficulty making decisions
  • feeling indifferent
  • lack of emotion
  • poor concentration
  • slowed thinking

If apathy is a symptom of depression, a person may also experience:

  • sadness
  • low self-esteem
  • sleep problems
  • changes in appetite
  • feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • suicidal thoughts or attempts
  • fatigue

Although apathy is a recognized symptom of various health conditions, it is not an official clinical diagnosis.

If an individual experiences persistent feelings of apathy that affect their daily life, they should seek help from a doctor or mental health professional.

A doctor will take a medical history and ask about the person’s mood, emotions, and physical health, as well as any circumstances that could contribute to their symptoms. They may also perform a physical examination to help rule out any underlying health conditions and take blood samples for testing.

These tests may include:

Depending on the results of these tests, a doctor may also order CT scans or MRI scans of the brain.

The treatment that a doctor recommends depends on the cause. If they conclude that apathy is a symptom of depression, they may recommend lifestyle changes, therapy, and medications.

Lifestyle changes

A person can make adjustments to their lifestyle and self-care routine to help ease feelings of apathy and depression. These include:

  • increasing levels of physical activity
  • eating a balanced diet
  • practicing mindfulness
  • avoiding substance use
  • quitting smoking
  • thinking positively
  • getting enough sleep
  • having a support system
  • identifying new sources of interest and joy
  • visiting new places
  • spending time in nature
  • trying new things
  • talking with loved ones


Sometimes, apathy relates to present or past challenges or trauma. If this is the case, therapy can help people understand and navigate their feelings. It can also allow someone to identify the cause of apathy, such as a major loss or setback.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a therapy that helps treat depression and could ease feelings of apathy. CBT focuses on helping a person change the way they think and behave. It can help a person identify negative thoughts and behaviors and replace them with more positive ones.


There are no medications that manufacturers have specifically created to treat apathy. However, medications can treat the underlying conditions that cause apathy.

For people with depression, the options may include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), such as amitriptyline and desipramine. Doctors will likely prescribe antipsychotic medications for those with schizophrenia.

Daily life may seem challenging when a person is feeling unmotivated, uninterested, and unable to experience emotions. However, those living with apathy can often manage their symptoms with help from a medical professional.

If apathy is a symptom of an underlying health condition, such as depression, addressing the root cause can help.

Anyone dealing with persistent or severe feelings of apathy should speak with a doctor, who can assess their overall health. The doctor can provide guidance on how to ease the symptoms and improve day-to-day life.

If feelings of apathy worsen and an individual is in crisis, they can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or 988 for free, confidential help around the clock.

Apathy is a condition characterized by a lack of motivation, emotion, or interest. It can be a symptom of an underlying health condition, such as depression.

Although feeling apathetic at some point is a normal part of life, a person should speak with a doctor if it is ongoing.

A doctor can assess the person’s overall health and diagnose them properly. Treatment for apathy may include lifestyle changes, therapy, and medications, depending on other health conditions.