Depression and fatigue are two similar conditions with a few key differences. Fatigue refers to a state of low energy and mental and physical exhaustion, while depression is a mental illness characterized primarily by feelings of sadness and despair. According to DepressionHelpSpot.com, 7 in every 100 people age 18 and older suffer from depression. Fatigue and depression symptoms often overlap and can be difficult to distinguish from one another, even for medical and mental health professionals.
What Is Fatigue?
Fatigue is the state of feeling mentally or physically exhausted, or a combination of the two. Clouded thinking, slowed speech, weakness and oversleeping often occur in those with fatigue. It can be caused by any number of conditions and illnesses, or may appear independently with hormonal fluctuations and other normal bodily processes. Fatigue is different from simple sleepiness and can be severe enough to hinder daily functioning. Medical conditions often associated with fatigue include fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, hypothyroidism, anemia and viruses such as mononucleosis.
Like fatigue, depression can have many causes. Symptoms include loss of interest in hobbies, feelings of sadness or hopelessness, weight changes, low sex drive, insomnia, fatigue and changes in sleeping habits. Some physical illnesses such as hypothyroidism and kidney disease can cause depression, or it can occur alone. There are many different subtypes of depression, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder and dysthymia, and it may be situational or physiologically based. Therapy for depression often includes a combination of psychiatric medication and talk therapy with a psychologist or counselor.
Symptoms of fatigue and depression are surprisingly similar. It’s virtually impossible to tell the difference from an outsider’s perspective, making diagnosing both conditions harder for doctors.
Both fatigue and depression share symptoms of slowed mental processing, brain fog and low energy. Both can have a wide variety of causes, and the overall effect on life is often similar, resulting in lowered productivity, inability to cope with daily stressors, and abstaining from hobbies and favored activities. Both fatigue and depression can cause physical pain and discomfort as well, especially in the case of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).
To confuse matters further, fatigue is often a symptom of depression, while prolonged fatigue can lead to depression in an otherwise healthy person.
The main difference between depression and fatigue are the symptoms and diagnostic criteria associated with both conditions. Depression has a wider base of symptoms not seen in those with simple fatigue, such as suicidal thoughts and general feelings of emotional sadness or emptiness. Not all depressed people are fatigued, and not everyone with fatigue is depressed. The fatigue present in depression patients can usually be resolved with sleep, while that of CFS and other types of physiologically based fatigue can not.
If you are experiencing symptoms of fatigue or depression, seek medical help. While usually temporary, fatigue and depression can be symptoms of more serious conditions. Your doctor will advise you on the course of treatment most appropriate for your particular situation.