Apathy is a term that’s used to refer to a lack of interest, feeling or concern. It can develop for a number of different reasons, including as a common symptom of major depressive disorder and other mental health issues.
When you feel apathetic, you might no longer care about your hobbies, interests or other things in your life.
You might experience little to no change in your emotions and stop caring about the relationships that usually matter to you.
It’s normal to feel apathetic from time to time, but when apathy becomes your normal state, it’s often a signal that you could have a mental health condition.
Below, we’ve explained what apathy is, as well as how it can affect your thoughts, feelings and behavior.
We’ve also covered what causes apathy and the treatment options that are available to restore your normal feelings and thought processes.
Apathy itself isn’t a recognized condition, meaning it doesn’t have its own list of psychological symptoms that are used to diagnose it clinically.
Instead, apathy usually occurs as a symptom of other mental disorders, including those that can affect your thoughts and feelings.
The most common sign of apathy is a general lack of interest in life, or indifference towards the things that usually interest you.
A reduced level of pleasure from hobbies and other activities
Less interest in maintaining relationships or spending time with other people
Little response to events and life changes, whether positive or negative
Fatigue and a feeling that you’re running low on energy
Difficulty focusing, paying attention or completing tasks
Lack of motivation to accomplish goals and make progress in life
Researchers have identified several different subtypes of apathy, each with distinct effects on thoughts and behavior:
General apathy. This type of apathy involves reduced social activity, emotions and motivation.
Emotional apathy. This type of apathy is characterized by a general lack of positive or negative feelings.
Behavioral apathy. This type of apathy involves reduced motivation and self-starting behaviors.
Many of the signs of apathy are similar to the symptoms of depression. While apathy can occur in people with clinical depression, many people who aren’t affected by depression also develop apathy at certain points in life — and just because you have one symptom of depression doesn’t mean you’ll experience crossover symptoms of apathy.
Just about everyone experiences apathy from time to time. Feeling indifferent to the world is a common issue that might pop up when you feel stressed, overworked or just burned out and in need of time to yourself.
Occasional apathy generally isn’t viewed as a major issue. However, when apathy becomes a persistent aspect of your life, it may interfere with your ability to experience pleasure, maintain relationships and enjoy a fulfilling, happy life.
Apathy is often caused by psychiatric disorders and physical health conditions, such as:
Major depressive disorder
Other forms of depressive illness
In some cases, apathy can develop due to situational or environmental factors. For example, it’s common for victims of traumatic events or major life setbacks to develop an apathy syndrome to maintain their emotional stability.
Since apathy can develop for a variety of reasons, there’s no one-size-fits-all treatment that can relieve every person’s symptoms.
To treat apathy, your healthcare provider will likely ask you about your symptoms to identify the condition that’s causing you to feel apathetic.
You may need to complete an assessment for apathy or talk to your healthcare provider about the type of symptoms you have and their severity.
If your healthcare provider thinks your apathy could be caused by a physical health issue, they may ask you to complete a blood test or imaging test.
You can seek help for apathy by asking your primary care provider for a referral, scheduling an appointment with a mental health provider locally, or from home using our online mental health services.
Treating the underlying cause of your apathy may involve therapy, medication, changes to your lifestyle or a combination of approaches.
When apathy is caused by stress, a traumatic event or a mental health condition such as major depressive disorder, it’s often treated with psychotherapy.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, involves meeting with a licensed mental health provider. As part of therapy, you’ll work together to learn new techniques for changing the way you think, process certain feelings and behave.
Several types of psychotherapy are used to treat depression and other mental health issues that can contribute to apathy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy for depression, problem-solving therapy and interpersonal therapy.
When apathy is caused by a physical health condition, psychotherapy may help you to deal with some symptoms, such as stress and mood changes.
Although there’s currently no medication that’s approved specifically to treat apathy, medications are available for several physical and mental conditions that can cause you to feel apathetic.
Your healthcare provider will prescribe the most appropriate medication based on the root cause of your apathy. You may be prescribed:
Antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or other drugs used to balance neurotransmitter levels and improve your moods.
Antipsychotic medications to treat apathy caused by schizophrenia.
Cholinesterase inhibitors to treat apathy caused by dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
Medications to increase cerebral blood flow for apathy caused by stroke.
In some cases, your healthcare provider may prescribe other medications to improve the way you feel and treat the underlying cause of your apathy.
If you’re prescribed medication to treat a condition that causes apathy, make sure to take it as directed by your healthcare provider.
Do not adjust your dosage or stop using your medication without first talking to your healthcare provider.
In addition to taking part in therapy and using medication, making small changes to your habits and lifestyle can often help to reduce apathy and improve your mood.
Try the following lifestyle changes to get relief from apathy on your own:
Keep yourself physically active. Regular exercise can relieve stress and improve the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Try to keep yourself active by exercising on a daily basis, even if it’s just a quick workout or walk around your neighborhood.
Identify sources of stress. If your apathy is due to stress, identifying your key sources of stress may help you to make positive changes to your life. Try writing down the things that make you feel stressed, then taking steps to limit their impact on your wellbeing.
Try new hobbies. Sometimes, apathy can occur naturally when you move on from the things that used to bring you joy. Try new hobbies or activities by going out with friends, taking part in local meetups or learning new skills.
Let other people help you. Depression and other mental health conditions that cause apathy often improve with social contact. Try not to isolate yourself -- instead, reach out to friends and family to spend time together and keep yourself occupied.
Take a break from social media. Experts believe that overusing social media may play a role in the development of mental health issues, including some that can contribute to apathy and affect your quality of life.If you feel apathetic after reading the news or scrolling through your social media feed, it may help to take a temporary break from social media and tech.
Focus on making small changes. It takes time to improve your mood and start feeling new emotions again. Instead of expecting results right away, focus on making small but meaningful changes to your daily living activities.
Avoid making important decisions until you feel better. If your apathy is caused by depression, it’s best to avoid making any major life decisions, such as changing jobs or ending a relationship, until you feel better.
Focus on making gradual progress. Once you feel better, you can pay more attention to important life decisions and other changes.
It’s normal to feel apathetic sometimes. However, when feelings of apathy make you feel devoid of emotion and motivation, it’s important to seek help.
You can get help for apathy by asking your primary care provider for a mental health referral or contacting a mental health professional in your area.
You can also talk to a licensed psychiatry provider from home using our online psychiatry service.
With time and treatment, it’s possible to overcome even the most persistent apathy and enjoy a fulfilling, emotionally rich daily life.
Interested in improving your mental wellbeing? Our free online mental health resources provide more information about dealing with anxiety, depression and other mental health concerns that can affect you on a daily basis.
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Kristin Hall is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with decades of experience in clinical practice and leadership.
She has an extensive background in Family Medicine as both a front-line healthcare provider and clinical leader through her work as a primary care provider, retail health clinician and as Principal Investigator with the NIH.
Certified through the American Nurses Credentialing Center, she brings her expertise in Family Medicine into your home by helping people improve their health and actively participate in their own healthcare.
Kristin is a St. Louis native and earned her master’s degree in Nursing from St. Louis University, and is also a member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. You can find Kristin on LinkedIn for more information.