Are You Depressed or Just Lazy?

August 15, 2022

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About The Editor
About The Editor

Abby Doty has written and edited creative and literary work as well as academic pieces focused primarily on psychology and mental health.

About The Writer
About The Writer

Sara Graff is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) in Florida.

About The Medical Reviewer
About The Medical Reviewer

Dr. Angela Phillips is a licensed therapist and clinical researcher.

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Most people deal with low motivation at times. It may seem comforting to spend the day on the couch binge-watching a favorite show or having a movie day. Who wants to do those house chores? But what if the situation is more than an occasional drop in motivation? Could it be a more pervasive laziness issue or even depression? How can someone determine if these types of situations are related to depression or laziness? 

Depression and laziness are very different. The dictionary defines laziness as “the quality of not being willing to work or use any effort.” Depression is a medical health condition that can affect anyone. Laziness and depression may appear similar, but they are not the same thing. Learning to recognize the difference between laziness and depression is a crucial part of seeking help to cope with the impacts on your life and begin to make changes.

Differences Between Depression and Laziness

Depression is a serious health condition that affects at least 21 million adults in the United States. Depression affects how someone thinks, feels and engages in life. It often leaves people with difficulties in functioning and taking care of themselves. When people have depression, they cannot do what needs to be done in their lives. With depression, not doing things is not a choice — it’s part of the condition.

Laziness is a concept that describes someone who is unwilling to do what is expected or needs to be done. It suggests that people have control over their inactivity and choose not to complete tasks. Laziness is not a disease like depression. It usually develops from someone’s cultural, social and personal experiences. 

Depression may look similar to laziness because, in both situations, the person may end up not doing what needs to be done. With depression, it happens because of an illness that creates sadness, hopelessness, fatigue and poor concentration. Laziness differs in that it describes a person’s chosen inactivity due to a lack of desire or dislike of the activity. Some similar consequences that arise from depression and laziness are:

  • Not completing work (school or job related)
  • Not getting out of bed
  • Not taking care of personal hygiene, health and well-being
  • Not taking care of household chores and tasks
  • Not keeping a job or going to school

Both depression and laziness contain a negative stigma. A stigma continues to surround depression, in which people are seen as lazy. It is believed that they can just “snap out of it” but instead choose to not take care of themselves. With laziness, the person may be judged as a bad person or as inadequate. They are seen as having the ability to do something but refuse to do it.

Is Laziness a Symptom of Depression?

Laziness is not a clinical symptom of depression, but some of the symptoms of depression may be perceived as laziness. Fatigue is a symptom often misinterpreted as laziness. Over 90% of people with depression face fatigue. The fatigue can become consuming and impair a person’s functioning. Fatigue can take away someone’s energy, motivation and desire to move forward each day.

Other symptoms of depression that may be confused with laziness:

  • Not feeling interested in activities 
  • Not eating because of a decreased appetite
  • Sleeping too much
  • Moving less or very slowly
  • Poor concentration
  • Feeling hopeless

Laziness vs. Avolition

Avolition is a negative symptom experienced with depression. With avolition, people have a decreased motivation, interest and desire to engage in activities and tasks. Consequently, they are less likely to begin and complete them. 

Avolition may be confused with laziness because the person has lost the initiative to do what they need to do. They may appear lazy because they don’t live up to their responsibilities, take care of themselves or follow through with requests to take care of things. Avolition is not an intentional choice that someone makes. It’s a negative symptom of depression as well as other mental health and neurological disorders. Some other diagnoses include:

  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorder 
  • Autism
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Stroke
  • Traumatic brain injury

How to Tell if You Are Depressed or Lazy

People can feel confused about being depressed or lazy. Asking certain questions regarding depression symptoms might help to find some clarity regarding depression or laziness. Some questions to ask are:

  • Have you lost interest in doing things?
  • Have you been feeling sad or hopeless?
  • Are you sleeping more than usual and still feeling tired?
  • Are you having a hard time concentrating?
  • Do you move very slowly?
  • Have you lost interest in eating or making your food?
  • Are you having trouble making decisions?

If you answered yes to any of the questions listed above, you might benefit from talking with a doctor or mental health provider to further assess for depression and rule out laziness.

Causes of Laziness

There are many different factors that can contribute to laziness. Understanding the reasons for laziness can help find ways to address and improve the situation. Sometimes, people may not perform a task because they lack the necessary skills. Feeling lost in life or having difficulty identifying interests may result in not doing anything. Low self-esteem and labeling oneself as a failure can also lead to not wanting to live up to responsibilities in life.

Other mental health disorders may also be confused or misinterpreted as laziness. It happens quite often with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) because of the impairments in executive functioning. Some of the impairments confused with laziness are:

  • Poor organization of tasks, which can lead to not completing tasks
  • Procrastination or delaying getting started on tasks
  • Trouble focusing on work, conversations, etc.
  • Not seeming alert or to be paying attention
  • Difficulty putting effort into tasks over a long period of time
  • Not completing tasks or work on time

Many people readily associate certain positive symptoms — changes that add on to someone’s experiences — with schizophrenia, such as hallucinations, paranoia and delusions. When someone has schizophrenia, that person also has negative symptoms, which take away or reduce experiences. These negative symptoms are easily mislabeled as laziness:

  • Limited interest in doing enjoyable activities
  • No desire to begin and complete necessary activities and tasks
  • Minimal, if any, socialization 
  • Low levels of spontaneous speech and conversations with other people
  • Minimally express emotions 

Some other mental health disorders confused with laziness are anxiety, bipolar disorder and learning disorders.

Many physical health issues cause severe fatigue and drain a person’s desire and motivation. People may seem lazy when really it’s a symptom related to their health issues. Some common health issues with fatigue are:

  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Anemia
  • Congestive heart failure

Combating Laziness

When trying to make changes regarding laziness, it’s helpful to understand the patterns associated with laziness and then create some ways to challenge it. Some questions to consider:

  • Are there times when you’re more likely to begin and complete things?
  • What are things in your life that do interest you?
  • What helps you complete tasks and meet goals?
  • What helps you to get out of bed in the morning or off the couch during the day?
  • Do you get enough sleep? 
  • Do you eat a healthy and balanced diet?

With a stronger understanding of patterns that impact motivation, energy and abilities to complete tasks, then it’s easier to implement some changes. Possible changes to combat laziness are:

  • Implementing a regular sleep schedule and sleep routine
  • Eating healthy and nutritious meals
  • Creating a time management plan that centers around times of day when you have higher productivity patterns
  • Breaking large tasks and goals into smaller steps
  • Planning time for inspirational and enjoyable activities. Consider small breaks during the day for a short activity
  • Scheduling an enjoyable activity in the morning to encourage you to get out of bed
  • Calling someone who you find motivating or inspirational
  • Following accounts on social media that are motivational for you
  • Asking for help when you need it

When to Seek Help

Whether you are experiencing signs of depression or laziness, seeking out help can teach you how to make changes in your life. A mental health professional can assist you in creating a plan and learning important skills to bring you relief and a better quality of life. Some common results from laziness indicating you could benefit from help might include:

  • Relationship issues
  • School or job problems
  • Financial struggles
  • Poor hygiene
  • Not completing necessary household chores and tasks
  • Not preparing food

If you are concerned about the issues being more serious than laziness and are questioning depression, then a therapist or doctor can help to further assess and discuss the situation with you. If it’s determined that you do have depression, then a combination of therapy and medications can help you feel better and learn appropriate coping skills. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with laziness, a mental health disorder or addiction, the Nobu app can help. This free-to-use app offers a variety of mental health support services, including mindfulness exercises, goal tracking, journaling prompts and more. For an additional fee, you can even connect to a licensed mental health professional for treatment. Download the app today, available for free on the Apple Store and Google Play Store

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About The Editor
About The Editor

Abby Doty has written and edited creative and literary work as well as academic pieces focused primarily on psychology and mental health.

About The Medical Reviewer
About The Medical Reviewer

Dr. Angela Phillips is a licensed therapist and clinical researcher.

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