Understanding Apathy

If you are feeling uninterested in your relationships, unmotivated at work, uninterested in school, or just feeling empty and you don’t know why, you may be feeling apathy. Sometimes, apathetic feelings are a result of things we can recognize and change—for example, we’re feeling bored at work or we’re no longer attracted to someone we once felt attracted to. But sometimes apathy is a symptom of a larger issue we’re facing, like trauma, grief, or an underlying mental health condition.

If you are feeling empty and apathetic, it’s important to understand where those feelings come from and what you can do to change them.

Common Signs of Apathy

Apathy may make you feel like you are empty or feeling nothing, but it can cause noticeable changes in your demeanor, such as:

  • Low or no reaction to emotions, like not feeling or expressing emotions, either positive or negative, or feeling indifferent to situations others may have a reaction to.
  • Neglecting your responsibilities, like not engaging with work or school—even if there may be negative consequences, like a poor performance review or bad grade. From the outside, it may look like you are “lazy.”
  • Neglecting your needs, like self-care, hygiene, diet and exercise, or regular sleep patterns.
  • Difficulty starting or finishing everyday tasks, like chores or homework.
  • Not engaging with others, including friends, teachers, classmates, or coworkers. From the outside, it may look like you aren’t interested in other people’s lives.
  • Lack of motivation to complete goals or make changes to your lifestyle, even if you know they would benefit you.
  • Lack of interest in hobbies that you once enjoyed.
  • Feeling fatigued or low energy.

If you or someone you know is exhibiting signs of apathy, text “START” to 741-741 or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

What Causes Feelings of Apathy?

You may be asking yourself, “Why do I feel empty?” There are many reasons for why you may be struggling with apathy.

Poor Self-Esteem

If you have a negative self-image, struggle with low self-esteem or feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, or incompetence, you may begin to feel like your life doesn’t matter. This can be a sign of suicidal thoughts or behaviors, so if you begin to feel this way, it’s important to tell a friend or an adult you trust, and be on the lookout for other changes in your mood and behaviors.

A Tragic or Traumatic Event

Experiencing an event like the loss of a loved one, financial difficulties, getting laid off or failing out of school can make you feel lost, sad, scared, or isolated—and may make you question the point of living. If you don’t cope with your trauma, you may start to feel apathetic and disconnected from your everyday life as a way to handle the pain.

Trouble Adjusting to a New Circumstance

An event doesn’t need to be traumatic in order to trigger feelings of apathy. If you’ve experienced a recent change, like changing jobs or changing schools, a breakup, or a fight with a friend, apathy may be a sign that you’re having trouble adjusting to your new situation.

Feeling Overwhelmed or Burned Out

If we don’t feel like our hard work at school, at work, or at home is being acknowledged or rewarded, we can begin to feel resentful of others who are not acknowledging us. If we don’t practice self-care while we’re working hard, we can start to feel exhausted and overworked. If you’re feeling overworked, burned out, or unfulfilled by your current lifestyle, you may start to shut down and feel apathetic.

Feeling Stuck

We want rewards for the hard work we do, and one of those rewards is feeling stimulated and interested in our own lives. If you are feeling like you’re in a rut at work, in your classes, or in certain relationships, and you can’t immediately leave or change your situation, apathy can quickly take over.

Apathy is a Sign of Many Mental Health Conditions

If there is no apparent cause—for example, you have not gone through a sudden major tragedy or other significant life change—and you still have prolonged feelings of apathy and emptiness that you can’t shake, this may be cause for concern, especially if feeling apathetic is interfering with other areas of your life. Apathy can be a symptom of a larger mental health issue, or related to other mental and physical health issues.

Apathy is often occurs at the same time with other aspects of mental health conditions:

  • Anhedonia: Literally meaning “without pleasure,” people with anhedonia no longer enjoy activities that they usually do.
  • Lethargy: People who are lethargic feel abnormally slow, sluggish, heavy, or fatigued. Lethargy can affect people physically and mentally.

Apathy, anhedonia, and lethargy are all symptoms of depression. If you are feeling a combination of these symptoms, seek help from a mental health professional, or text “START” to 741-741 or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for a free and confidential conversation.

On its own, apathy is recognized as one symptom of many mental health conditions, such as:

  • Major depressive disorder.
  • Persistent depressive disorder
  • Bipolar disorder/bipolar depression
  • Seasonal affective disorder
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder
  • Adjustment disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Schizophrenia

How to Address Apathetic Feelings

If you are worried about your apathetic feelings, a good place to start is by asking yourself some questions about what is causing you to feel apathetic, either on your own or with the help of a mental health professional:

  • Do I view or talk about myself negatively?
  • Do I remember an event that happened before I started feeling apathetic?
  • Do I feel apathetic in all aspects of my life, or is it a specific situation or environment that makes me feel this way (for example, a class, or a task at work, or another responsibility)?
  • If so, what situations am I not apathetic in?
  • Do I feel like I am stuck in a rut?
  • What about my current situation is changeable?
  • Do I feel like my apathy has negatively affected my relationships, or my performance at work or school?

Identifying potential triggers of your apathy can help you avoid those triggers—or, if you can’t change them, learn how to react to them differently with healthier coping strategies. If you recognize that your apathy is linked to an event in your life, it may pass after you adjust to your new circumstance. You can also address your apathy by finding a new goal to focus on, like making new friends or searching for a new job.

If at any point your apathetic feelings lead to thinking suicidal thoughts, such as “What’s the point of being alive?” or “No one would miss me if I died,” it’s time to tell a parent, teacher, or therapist. Any suicidal thoughts, or thoughts about hurting yourself, should be assessed with support from a mental health professional.

When You’re Worried About a Friend Who Seems Apathetic

If you have noticed a friend or loved one is exhibiting signs of apathy or showing a lack of interest in your relationship, tell them what you’ve noticed, express your concern, and offer your support without judging them. If they tell you that their apathetic feelings have included suicidal thoughts, reach out to a trusted adult who can support them or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.

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If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text START to 741-741 or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for a free, confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7.

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