Most people experience times when they feel they don’t care anymore. They may experience stress and start to say that they don’t care about about school, their job, or their relationships. Despite saying that they don’t care, many people still care enough to continue moving forward and fulfilling their responsibilities in these areas of life.
However, if you feel as though you don’t care about anything, this may be a sign of apathy. Below, we’ll take a closer look at apathy to learn what it is and why it can present challenges in life.
What Is Apathy?
In distinguishing between occasional feelings of nonmotivation and apathy related to a disease, it may be helpful to consider that worry can be a sign that a person does care and that they have not given up. The brain’s frontal cortex tends to be active when we worry. When we are apathetic, the frontal cortex can begin to deteriorate or atrophy, and this tends to be a significant feature of diseases such as Alzheimer's.
When someone is apathetic, they may feel disinterested and unmotivated. As a result, they may not care about their life or the things that are going on around them. In some contexts, apathy can be related to indifference, and it might not mean that something is necessarily wrong. For example, imagine that you are trying to decide what to do for dinner. You can either go out to a restaurant or you can make dinner. If both options sound equally palatable to you and you genuinely do not have a preference, you might feel apathetic, or indifferent, about your choices for dinner.
In this case, you genuinely might not care what you have to eat, and that’s a valid feeling. Feeling apathetic about two equally good dinner options does not mean you have stopped caring about every other aspect of your life. However, if you are experiencing relationship problems, performance concerns at work, and financial difficulty and you find yourself feeling apathetic about those things, this can be a different type of apathy that is characterized by a lack of emotion.
Apathy can prevent you from engaging in everyday activities that are essential for your quality of life, and it can negatively affect your choices. Apathy can also be a sign of a physical or mental health concern, so if you’re experiencing strong feelings of apathy, it may be worth investigating these feelings with a physician or mental health professional.
The Difference Between Apathy And Depression
Feelings of apathy might not occur in isolation. Apathy is sometimes a symptom of another mental or physical health condition, so it may be helpful to explore the root cause with a professional. For treatment purposes, it can be important to separate apathy from mental health conditions that seem similar. For example, apathy is commonly confused with depression, but these conditions are distinct.
Apathy and depression are often mistaken for one another, perhaps because they appear to show similar symptoms. For example, someone who is living with depression may experience a diverse array of symptoms, including:
- An overwhelming and pervasive sense of sadness that doesn’t go away
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Inability to concentrate
- A sense of hopelessness
- Increased or decreased appetite
- Excessive or insufficient sleep
- Loss of interest in enjoyable activities
- Recurrent thoughts of suicidal ideation*
*If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline can be reached at 988 and is available 24/7.
These symptoms can seem similar to apathy. Many people who are living with severe depression experience such sadness that they may not seem to care about what’s going on in their lives. However, people who live with depression may not necessarily be apathetic; they may be experiencing feelings of sadness so intense that their depression has temporarily stifled their other emotions. Some people who experience depression report that they want to be happy but feel so down that they feel unable to remember what happiness is like.
However, many people living with depression can experience significant relief from their symptoms with the aid of therapy or medication. Many have reported that therapy helped so much that their depression symptoms almost seemed to disappear. This is one of the primary reasons why it might help to distinguish between apathy and depression. You can seek treatment for depression and possibly experience relief from your symptoms.
What Causes Apathy?
Depression is a mental health condition that can cause some people to think they feel apathetic. True apathy can be a little different; when someone feels apathetic, they can feel unmotivated and disinterested in many aspects of their life, even if they are not experiencing depression. Because these feelings may not be typical aspects of a person’s emotional experience, feelings of apathy may be a sign that points to a deeper mental or physical health problem.
The causes of apathy can vary, so you might consider seeking help from a doctor and/or a therapist as you try to get to the root of the problem. If you are experiencing signs of apathy, the specifics of your case may vary, but common causes may include the following conditions:
Alzheimer’s And Dementia
Apathy is a common hallmark of both Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. In fact, between 50% and 70% of people with dementia have this loss of interest. The Alzheimer’s Association reports that “Alzheimer's is not just a disease of old age. Younger-onset (also known as early-onset) Alzheimer's affects people younger than age 65. Younger-onset Alzheimer’s is much less common, and prevalence among the more than 6 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s is uncertain.”
If you’re experiencing significant feelings of apathy and you’re younger than 65, it may be beneficial to speak with a physician or mental health professional. Even if you think you may be living with depression, it may be best to avoid self-diagnosing and assuming that depression is the only condition you can have. Talking about these symptoms with a healthcare provider can lead to a screening for early-onset Alzheimer’s, and this can have a significant impact on your future and quality of life. Although it can be challenging to confront the reality of a diagnosis like early-onset Alzheimer’s, it may be better to know and begin treatment as soon as possible.
If you’ve recently experienced a stroke, your brain may experience new challenges as a result of this trauma. A stroke can have a substantial impact on your brain function and your emotional control. Many people who have recently had a stroke report intense feelings of apathy along with unexpected changes in their personality. If you know that you’ve recently had a stroke and you’re experiencing new and uncharacteristic feelings, consider mentioning these things to a doctor. As in the case of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, apathy is sometimes not a symptom of a mental health condition but a physical or neurological problem that a doctor can help you investigate.
Feelings of apathy can also occasionally be a symptom of schizophrenia. Although these symptoms more commonly occur in people who have recently experienced a stroke or are showing signs of early-onset dementia, apathy can sometimes occur in people who live with schizophrenia. Studies show that apathy can sometimes occur as a result of antipsychotic medications, which are commonly prescribed to people who experience schizophrenia, or it can occur as a symptom of depression, which can be common among people who have schizophrenia. If you are living with schizophrenia and you are now experiencing signs of apathy, consider mentioning this symptom to your doctor.
Treatment For Apathy
Apathy can be challenging to treat, and the precise cause of your apathy may determine your treatment options. For example, because apathy is different from depression, the common treatments for depression may be ineffective for treating apathy. In some cases, antidepressants— which are commonly prescribed for people living with depression—may make apathy worse.
Likewise, if you’re experiencing early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, the after-effects of a stroke, or schizophrenia, your treatment options may vary. If you have any of these conditions, your doctor may be able to prescribe certain medications that can be helpful. These medications may be different from those that are prescribed for the treatment of depression.
In addition to medication, connecting with a therapist may be beneficial as it can provide you with professional insight about your symptoms and a set of tools you may need to resolve apathy and rediscover joy. Your treatment plan for apathy may depend on your specific symptoms, and you and your therapist can work together to determine what will be best and most effective for you.
Your therapist might encourage you to connect with a support group for people who are experiencing apathy in addition to trying music therapy, art therapy, or opportunities to connect with an emotional support animal.
Connecting With A Therapist Online
If you are interested in therapy but don’t have the energy or motivation to visit a therapist’s office, you might consider online therapy.
With an online therapy service like BetterHelp, you can chat with a therapist via audio or video chat from the comfort of your home at a time that works for you.
Licensed online therapists are trained in various treatment approaches, and your therapist may use a method like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help you reframe your thoughts. Internet-based CBT has been found to be effective in treating and managing various mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety, which may stem from a diagnosis of dementia, the aftermath of a stroke, or an apathy-related condition.
What is the common cause of apathy?
Multiple mental health conditions can cause apathy. Emotional apathy is a common feature of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and may affect as much as 70% of people with dementia. Stroke can cause apathy and personality changes as the brain works to overcome the challenges of the damage. Although not as common, apathy can also be a symptom of schizophrenia, Huntington's disease, or affective disorders, and it may occur during head trauma rehabilitation. Another rare cause may be brain cancer, as shown in this study from the American Medical Directors Association.
How do you treat apathy?
The emotional indifference of apathy can be challenging to treat. Because apathy is not the same as depression, common depression medications may not work and can even make apathy worse. People experiencing apathy due to Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, stroke, or schizophrenia should talk to their doctor about suitable treatment. Some medications can help. Connecting with a therapist can also be beneficial as it can help you gain some insight into your symptoms and be able to start caring about things again.
What is the root of apathy?
There is no single identifiable root of apathy. Everyone’s experience is different, and apathy can stem from various conditions, including stroke, Alzheimer disease, or dementia, including frontotemporal dementia and vascular dementia.
Is there medication for apathy?
No, there is no medication that specially treats apathy, but your doctor can prescribe medication that may treat any underlying neurological disorders contributing to your feelings of apathy.
What deficiency causes apathy?
There is some evidence that vitamin deficiencies can affect mental health, which may lead to emotional or behavioral apathy. For example, research shows that vitamin C deficiencies can contribute to stress-related disorders like anxiety and depression and that supplementing with B complex vitamins can delay or prevent cognitive decline. But, no research relates apathy directly to a deficiency.
Is apathy caused by stress?
Apathetic feelings can be a side effect of emotional exhaustion, which can result from stress. Stress can accumulate, and you may feel drained when you have to keep facing difficult challenges. This feeling is called emotional exhaustion. In addition to apathy, someone with emotional exhaustion may experience other symptoms, including depression, feelings of hopelessness, irritability, or diminished motivation.
Can you come back from apathy?
Yes, but it may be challenging to treat. If you are experiencing apathy, talk to your doctor. Apathy may be the first sign of various brain disorders, and your doctor may want to perform an apathy motivation index or dimensional apathy scale or conduct tests to rule out any medical conditions. Talking to a therapist with clinical practice in treating apathy can also help you work through your feelings, and you can work with your therapist to devise a plan to help you feel joy again.
Is apathy a bad thing?
Apathy can significantly negatively impact your everyday life, so it is not a positive thing. People who are apathetic may be unmotivated or uninterested in the people and things around them. It can prevent them from participating in everyday activities, completing everyday tasks, and affect their choices. That is why it is essential to talk to your doctor or reach out to a mental health professional if you are experiencing feelings of apathy.
Can you reverse apathy?
Yes, with the proper treatment, it is possible to reverse apathy. That said, it can be challenging to determine the underlying cause of apathy. If you are experiencing symptoms of severe apathy, talk to your doctor or contact a therapist for support. They may perform an apathy evaluation scale or other tests to determine how to best treat your apathy.
What part of the brain is apathy?
Emotions and feelings like apathy are very complex and controlled by multiple parts of the brain, including the cerebrum, temporal lobes, and limbic system.
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