When Indifference Becomes Apathy: Byproducts of Depression

April 14, 2023

As unfortunate as depression already is, it doesn’t just end at being depressed.

A common symptom of chronic or long-lasting depression is indifference; after a while, you lose interest in what you loved and stop caring about things that used to be important to you. When it goes on for long enough, depression can even keep us from caring about anything, from what we’re eating to why we’re getting up every day.

Apathy could be considered a more severe indifference. It’s defined as a lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern, and it can often become disorderly in itself, rendering us completely stone-hearted.

Apathy goes to the root of our moral and spiritual crisis today…. Apathy is the loss of ability to feel indignant at the work of evil in our lives and in the lives of others. It is the absence of outrage against injustice. It is the erosion of ability to commit oneself to important causes, to care deeply about other people, and to take risks in the struggle against every form of human bondage.

DANIEL MIGLIORE

If indifference paves the way toward apathy, apathy is a possible segue to ennui, helplessness, and emotional catatonia, so it’s best to find ways to challenge depression-induced apathy as soon as we notice it interfering with our lives.

From Relationship between depression, apathy, and dementia. Adapted from Pagonabarraga et al., 2015, and Dujardin et al., 2009.

One of the ways we can do this is by challenging the feelings and desires–or rather, lack of desires–apathy brings out in us. It’s commonly known that shrinking into ourselves and hiding from the outside world is likely to worsen negative emotions, so when you’re tempted to do this, challenge it, and push yourself.

Even if you don’t want to, make the decision to go out with friends or do something you would’ve wanted to do back when you were happier, if only for an hour. Remind yourself that you only have to show up someplace for a brief time; you’re already pushing your limits by going, so don’t try to sustain the time you’re there. The all-or-nothing approach won’t work in this case; it takes baby steps to regain our interest and passion in the world.

Once you’ve stepped out of your comfort zone, employ a friend to remind you what you’re working towards. This person should encourage you without being too pushy, and they should know what you enjoyed doing before you felt depressed. Ideally, they can guide you back to doing those things; at first it might feel strange, like you’re trying to force yourself to feel good or have fun, but over time (and with support) this will pass.

Remember that what you do to combat apathy doesn’t even have to be social–it can be as simple or silly as playing a game you used to like.

Sometimes this approach doesn’t work, though, because we’ve convinced ourselves that what we do with our time isn’t important. “It’s my life,” you might find yourself saying; “it doesn’t matter anyway.”

If you’re in a spot where you don’t care what you do because you don’t care about yourself, it might be easier to show up for someone else, like your kids or your friends. Since depression often isolates us anyway, this tactic can help reignite our enthusiasm while also building back our social skills and reminding us to care for other people.

It’s hard to get ourselves back into the world when we’ve been outside of it for a long time. It’s also not always easy to remember who we were or what we liked before depression took over our lives, so it’s crucial to be patient with ourselves when trying to get out of its grip.

Remember that small progress is still progress, and that the world doesn’t go anywhere when we’re shut away–it will be right there waiting for you when you’re ready to care for it and yourself again.

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