Why can't I cry? Exploring the unexpected symptoms of depression

Medically reviewed by Nikki Ciletti
Updated January 17, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

What is crying? Even scientists claim that there are still mysteries associated with human crying. Simply put, crying is an involuntary emotional response in which a person produces tears. Humans will often cry in response to trauma or negative experiences, but they can also be moved to tears by a great piece of artwork or a beautiful sunset.  

One of the cornerstones of the human experience is crying. While it is natural for people to cry, you may have caught yourself wondering “why can’t I cry”? Maybe experiences that would have made you cry in the past no longer induce the urge to weep. 

Getty/Xavier Lorenzo
Are you having trouble crying?

Instead of crying and releasing your emotions, you might be left feeling numb, or perhaps like you aren’t feeling anything at all. You may even be growing frustrated that you don’t seem to be processing emotions the way you think you should. 

While there are a number of medical conditions linked to the inability to cry, losing the ability to cry has also been linked to various mental health conditions. In this article, we will explore a number of causes behind the inability to cry and what you can do to better process your emotions.

What causes inability to cry? 

There are a host of reasons why someone might lose their ability to shed tears, with many of them being unrelated to mental health conditions. For example, aging may lead to the inability to cry as the glands that produce tears will gradually function less over time. 

There are also several medications that can result in perpetually dry eyes, such as antihistamines, allergy medication, high blood pressure medication, hormone replacement therapy medication, and certain medications related to anxiety and depression.

Additionally, there are a number of mental health conditions that can result in someone producing fewer tears or not crying at all. 

Getty/AnnaStills

Exploring the symptoms of depression

If you find that your inability to cry is often paired with a general sense of melancholy or emotional numbness, you may be living with depression.

Depression can manifest in various mental health conditions with varying degrees of severity. Some of these can include:

  • Anhedonia, which is one of the hallmarks of major depressive disorder. Anhedonia is the inability to experience joy or pleasure, which can often extend to experiencing few emotions at all. Those experiencing anhedonia often express an emotional numbness, and find they are less passionate about what brings them joy. 
  • Melancholia, which goes hand in hand with anhedonia and is another hallmark of depression. While those with melancholia often experience the same sense of emotional numbness as those with anhedonia, those with melancholia are more likely to experience stronger feelings of sadness and guilt

Major depressive disorder is a serious mental health condition that can severely impact one’s ability to live a productive and satisfying life. While not all those who experience occasional periods of melancholia or anhedonia are suffering from major depressive disorder, it is crucial that those exhibiting symptoms for prolonged periods of time seek help to address these issues.

Coping with depression

If you are someone dealing with symptoms of depression, there are a number of ways you can cope, including being more active, maintaining a healthy diet, and abstaining from substances such as alcohol. While it can be difficult for individuals to find the motivation to take care of themselves during depressive episodes, these small lifestyle changes may provide some relief.

For those who find it challenging to cry or process emotions, seeking guidance from a therapist or mental health professional is highly recommended. Online therapy can be a great option for people who require flexibility with scheduling or those who have difficulty with mobility. 

Online therapy can often help individuals get to the root of why they might be feeling numb or unable to process emotional distress. In addition to flexibility and cost-effectiveness, research has demonstrated that online therapy delivers a quality of care equal to that of in-person therapy..  

Getty/AnnaStills
Are you having trouble crying?

Takeaway

The inability to cry can be alarming for some individuals. While there are medical conditions and certain medications that can impact one’s ability to cry, one of the chief causes of the numbness and inability to process emotions associated with an inability to cry is depression. Feelings of melancholia and anhedonia, or loss of joy, can often be alleviated by seeking help with a licensed professional.

Depression is treatable, and you're not alone

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