Can Depression Make You Tired?

By Jon Jaehnig

Updated June 12, 2019

One of the clichés around depression is that depression can make you tired. This is both unfortunate and fortunate.

The downside is that this means that many people are quick to say that they are depressed just because they don't feel like doing something, and some are quick to dismiss depressed people as just being lazy.

The upside is that tiredness is a very real symptom of depression. As a result, even if that symptom is used and abused from time to time, widespread knowledge of it makes it easier for people to identify depression earlier in themselves and loved ones so that they can have it diagnosed and treated.


A better question than "can depression make you tired?" is "how can depression make you tired?" After all, it does seem a little strange that an emotional disorder like depression can have physical symptoms like tiredness, but it's true.

In this article, we'll look at depression. Overall, the mechanisms through which it causes tiredness, and some of its other physical symptoms.

What Is Depression?

Depression is classically characterized by feelings of sadness or hopelessness. It can also mean a lack of interest or motivation.

Everyone feels these feelings from time to time, especially if life seems hard at the moment. However, people with depressive disorders may have these feelings for weeks at a time or longer. These feelings might also be so strong that the individual is unable to do the things that they need to do or the things that they once enjoyed doing.

Sometimes these feelings may come on after a tragic event like the loss of a loved one or even the loss of a job. Other times, however, they can seem to come on for no reason.

There are a large number of subcategories of depression that share these basic symptoms, but that differ based on other symptoms as well as when and how the symptoms manifest.

Causes Of Depression

That is because sometimes depression is caused by an event, and other times, it is caused by imbalances of messenger molecules in the brain called "neurotransmitters." Some scientists believe that a combination of both of these factors may be at play and may explain why some people get depression after certain situations and others don't. In these cases, an individual may have a predisposition for depression, which gets triggered by a traumatic event.

Some believe that the chemical imbalance that may lead to depression in some people is the result of genetics, as depression does tend to run in families.

In some cases, these imbalances can be caused by other factors as well, including a sedentary lifestyle, lack of time outside or a lack of sunshine, and use of alcohol and other drugs.


Physical Symptoms Of Depression

In addition to the emotional symptoms of depression that were discussed above, depression can come with several physical symptoms.

Weight loss via lack of appetite and weight gain via lack of activity are both common symptoms of depression. Other physical symptoms without an obvious source or that don't respond to treatment, such as headaches or digestive problems, can also be the result of depression.

As mentioned above, tiredness is another classic symptom of depression. Tiredness, lack of energy, and other similar symptoms can be their symptoms or can be the result of other physical symptoms like insomnia.

Serotonin And Tiredness In Depression

We talked already about the role of neurotransmitters in depression. Specifically, serotonin is the neurotransmitter that seems to be problematic in most cases of depression.

The body is supposed to release serotonin at certain times and in response to certain stimuli. Serotonin then bonds to special cells in the brain called "serotonin receptors." Serotonin that is left over may then be reabsorbed through other means. Not only active in the brain, but serotonin also helps nerve cells all over the body to communicate with one another and controls other important biological functions, including sleep-wake cycles, digestion, and other functions.

In most cases of depression, something is wrong with the balance of serotonin in the brain and body or with the cells that are supposed to receive it. In some cases, the body doesn't make enough serotonin.

In other cases, the cells that are supposed to receive the serotonin may be unable to because they have been damaged or because they have become immune to the chemical. This can happen in cases in which the body makes too much serotonin or when an individual has used drugs that mimic serotonin in the brain and body.

Finally, in some cases, the body reabsorbs serotonin too quickly, preventing it from being effectively used.

No matter what exactly the cause, too little serotonin in the brain and body may cause feelings of tiredness because the nervous system is not able to act as efficiently as it should. Serotonin imbalances may also lead to tiredness indirectly by causing problems with sleep-wake cycles that make it difficult for the individual to get the rest that they need. Because serotonin imbalances can also cause digestive problems, it may also be that people with depression cannot extract energy from food in the ways that they are supposed to or may not be eating enough food to give them the fuel that they need to feel energized.


Treating Serotonin Imbalances

Most of the medical interventions used to treat depression, called "anti-depressants" address the problem of serotonin imbalance.

The most common form is called "selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors," or "SSRIs" for short. These medications work by preventing cells in the brain from reabsorbing serotonin before the serotonin receptors have a chance to use it. These medications make the serotonin that is already available more effective without increasing the volumes of serotonin. This is important because, as mentioned above, serotonin receptors become less useful when they are simply given serotonin. As a result, if antidepressants worked by simply increasing the volume of serotonin in the brain, they would gradually become less and less useful as well as habit forming and potentially dangerous.

SSRIs are the third major kind of antidepressant drug and have largely replaced earlier serotonin reuptake inhibitors. As we have learned more and more about the brain and neurotransmitters, antidepressant drugs have become more effective and have fewer and fewer side effects.

Individuals that are prescribed antidepressants should make sure that the prescribing physician knows about all other medications that they are taking. It is also not recommended for individuals taking antidepressants to drink alcohol as alcohol can worsen feelings of depression and have dangerous interactions with antidepressants.

Treating Other Aspects Of Depression

Depending on the cause of the depression, the healthcare team, and the means and preferences of the individual, antidepressants may be the only course of treatment for depression. This will address the chemical imbalance that may have caused or contributed to the individual's depression, but it will not give them the emotional resources that they need to deal with feelings of depression.

To address these more emotional needs, many people seek to undergo talk therapy for their depression as well.

Just like medications address the chemical but not the emotional symptoms of depression, talk therapy addresses the emotional feelings of depression but does not change brain chemistry. As a result, people who chose to undergo talk therapy without medication may find that they can live a happier and healthier life but that their depression never really goes away - they are simply able to manage it better.

The most effective course of treatment for depression is a combination of talk therapy and medication. The medication makes talk therapy more effective, and talks therapy provides tools and resources that medications don't. As a result, individuals who undergo both talk therapy and medication for depression simultaneously often see their depression cured in a matter of months or years.

Unfortunately, talk therapy can be more expensive than medication and is not as likely to be covered under some insurance plans. This makes it difficult or impossible for some people to undergo talk therapy or forces them to choose between talk therapy and medications. Further, people in rural areas may not have easy access to a counselor or therapist, making going to talk therapy difficult.

Fortunately, as telecommunications technology has increased, and people have become more open to this technology, it has become easier and less expensive for people to meet with counselors and therapists remotely.

Finding Help

In addition to publishing education articles like this one, BetterHelp also has a service that connects individuals with one of the thousands of licensed and professional counselors and therapists over the internet. This allows people to see counselors and therapists on their own schedules, from the comfort of their own homes, and for lower rates than seeing a counselor or therapist in person, especially if they do not have easy access to a counselor or therapist in their area.

To learn more about how you or a loved one can benefit from seeing a licensed and professional online therapist for depression, visit

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