Symptoms & Causes of Apathy

Learn about the symptoms of apathy, what causes it and how it's different to Depression

Symptoms & Causes

“Apathy is like white noise. Dead air. You feel like a chunk of flavorless tofu. Not happy. Not sad. Not angry. And certainly not passionate.”

As described on the homepage, apathy is a lack of feeling, emotion, interest, and concern. It’s a state of indifference, or the suppression of emotions such as excitement, motivation or passion.

On this page, you’re going to learn more about the symptoms of apathy and how they differ from the symptoms of Depression (and some other mental health problems).

We’re also going to take a look at the causes of apathy so that you’ll better understand where this numbing syndrome has its roots.


As stated earlier, an apathetic individual has an absence of interest or concern about emotional, social, philosophical, or physical life and the world.

Here are some symptoms you might relate to:

- Your regular interests and hobbies don’t feel interesting or fun anymore

- You feel very unmotivated at work and your work performance starts to slip

- Every time you think of acting on a goal or possible interest, you quickly lose steam

- You allow yourself to spend a lot of time in front of the TV, surfing the net, shopping, or playing video games

- You feel frustrated or embarrassed being around friends who have something interesting going on in their lives or you avoid them altogether

Criteria for Apathy

Diagnostic criteria adopted from Starkstein to Leentjens

Please note that this is not meant as a Clinical Diagnostic Criteria for the Apathy Syndrome and it’s meant for informational and educational purposes only.

Apathetic person should fulfil the criteria A, B, C and D

If you related to the symptoms you might be suffering from apathy. You shouldn’t feel too worried though if you are experiencing some of the symptoms as they are part of normal daily life. It’s important to think back how long the symptoms have lasted and to what degree.

It is also super important to identify whether you are experiencing only apathetic symptoms or that there are also symptoms of depression involved. The more you experience symptoms of depression, the more likely it is that your apathy is a symptom of depression.

Next, you will learn more about Apathy and Depression.

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Apathy and Depression

Apathy and depression have a lot in common - learn the differences here

Depression and apathy are common neuropsychiatric disorders, they are often comorbid in different syndromes and share some signs. Both of these conditions present an overlap of core symptoms and this is the reason why it’s difficult to set them apart.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) depression is considered a mental state of altered mood characterized by sadness, desperation, anhedonia and decreased interest in daily life activities, subjective sensation of discomfort, feelings of worthlessness and lack of self-esteem.

Therefore apathy can be an aspect of depression in the manner in which there is a lack of motivation and a decreased interest in all or most daily activities, but apathy may be a discriminable clinical construct. In fact, in a person affected by depression, the loss of interests is associated with a feeling of sadness.

Apathy manifests with reduced interest and motivation but sadness and depressed mood are not present. The loss of motivation in apathy is considered primarily a difficulty to perform voluntary action and diminished goal-oriented behavior.

This condition causes indifference and absence of interest in the environment and the failure to respond emotionally to external stimuli but there aren’t sensations of discomfort and feelings of sadness.

Depression and apathy may be considered common symptoms in presence of neurological disease. In several neurodegenerative disorders such as dementia, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, apathy, and depression may also represent the first symptoms of the disease and may precede the cognitive decline.

More Differences and Overlap in symptoms of apathy and depression:

Symptoms of Apathy

  • - Blunted emotional response
  • - Indifference
  • - Low social engagement
  • - Diminished initiation
  • - Poor persistence

Symptoms in Common to Apathy and Depression

  • - Decreased enthusiasm about usual interests
  • - Psychomotor retardation
  • - Fatigue/hypersomnia
  • - Lack of insight
  • - Anhedonia
  • - Less physical activity than usual

Symptoms of Depression

  • - Sadness
  • - Feelings of guilt
  • - Negative Thoughts and feeling
  • - Helplessness
  • - Hopelessness
  • - Pessimism
  • - Self-criticism
  • - Anxiety
  • - Suicidal ideation

Apathy and depression are found to be somewhat related. Although apathy can occur in the absence of depression, most studies show that a considerable proportion of patients exhibit both apathy and depression.

Apathy can also be the precursor to a full-blown depression. As life starts to feel boring and empty, your psyche might decide to jazz things up a bit by sending you spiraling into a dark hole.

Distinguishing apathy (as a syndrome) from depression can be a major challenge due to an overlap in symptoms. We strongly encourage you to talk to your psychiatrist/therapist if you are experiencing symptoms of depression.

Learn about the differences in treatment HERE.

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Causes of Apathy

Apathy is a defence mechanism of your mind

What causes apathy? Why do some people find themselves indifferent even if they have important goals?

Jessica Hagy on her Forbes article describes apathy as a defense mechanism we deploy when there’s just too much intense information getting thrown at us.

She says we can’t emotionally process every shocking, disturbing, enraging, demoralizing thing that comes our way, and so we ignore what we can until we’ve managed to ignore everything. We tune it all out: even the beautiful, wonderful, and nourishing elements of our lives.

The very definition of apathy is a passionless existence. Nothing hurts. But nothing feels all that good, either.

As mentioned earlier, apathy is something that all people face in some capacity. It’s a natural response to disappointment, dejection, and stress. However, long-lasting apathy is something you should take seriously.

Here are some things that might lead to apathy. See whether you can relate to any of them:

- Major life change (health problem, unemployment, moving, relationship changes)

- Loss of hope: people experience apathy when they lose hope in getting what they want

- Believing you will never reach your goals

- You feel like your plans won’t work

- You are bored or worn down, by tedious daily routines that it seems there’s nothing to look forward to

- Prolonged stress

- Lack of rest

- Perceiving no challenge at all (e.g. the challenge is irrelevant to you)

- Thoughts of inferiority, incompetency or worthlessness

- Fear of failure or rejection, or that you not that long ago actually experienced some failure or rejection

Apathy may also be a sign of more specific mental problems such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia or dementia. We will do our best to update the website with additional information about the relationship between these disorders. In the meantime you can find more info here:

- Apathy in Parkinson's disease: A systematic review and meta‐analysis

- Apathy in Neurodegenerative Diseases

- Is Apathy a Valid and Meaningful Symptom or Syndrome in Parkinson’s Disease? A Critical Review

Apathy has been linked to problematic lifestyles characterized by sleep deprivation (and general fatigue), poor diet, and lack of exercise. It has also been associated with heavy use of certain drugs (from pain medications to marijuana, to heroin).

On the next page, you will learn about the treatment of apathy and what you can do to overcome it. Click HERE.

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