Is This Depression or Laziness? How to Tell the Difference

Are you experiencing depression or laziness? They can look the same, but they’re very different. Read the difference between depression and laziness on HealthyPlace.

Do I have depression, or am I lazy? That is a worry that plagues many people experiencing depression symptoms. It can make people afraid to see a doctor or therapist for help. No one wants to be formally accused of being lazy, to be told to just bite the bullet and get on with their lives. Here’s how to tell the difference between depression and laziness.

Depression or Lazy?

Depression and laziness can look similar at a quick glance, but they are very different experiences. This brief contrast highlights what each one is.

Laziness is

  • A trait
  • Personality-based
  • Often limited to specific circumstances
  • A choice

Laziness can be used as a description to explain what someone is like. Of course, having the trait of laziness doesn’t necessarily make someone completely idle and unmotivated in every circumstance of their lives. Everyone feels lazy sometimes, and those times can be mentally healthy when we use them to destress and recharge.

Depression is different. Even though our society tends to use the term “depressed” freely to describe people, no one is depressed at their core. Just as illnesses like diabetes aren’t what someone is like, nor is depression. Contrast the above description of laziness with this depiction of depression.

Depression is

  • An illness
  • Brain-based
  • All-encompassing
  • Not a choice

Depression and the Illusion of Laziness

Part of the stigma around depression is that people living with it are lazy. Many of the symptoms of depression can give the illusion of laziness to those who don’t understand depression. (Once people learn about what depression is and what it does to people, they usually stop equating the illness with the trait).

Depression makes it nearly impossible to start, engage in, and/or complete even simple tasks. Getting out of bed can be so exhausting that someone needs to fall right back into it. This means that working at any job can become impossible. Sometimes people with severe depression have to quit working and receive unemployment benefits. This isn’t laziness. It’s depression lethargy.

If you have any of these depression effects or symptoms and do not meet the criteria for laziness delineated above, you might be experiencing depression rather than laziness:

  • Sleeping too much
  • Crushing fatigue despite sleep
  • Difficulty with self-care such as showering
  • Loss of interest in activities or people you once enjoyed
  • Taking longer to complete ordinary tasks
  • Difficulty starting anything because of fatigue
  • Low self-esteem

Exhaustion Points to Depression, Not Laziness

If you’re concerned about whether you’re experiencing depression or laziness, take a look at your energy levels. Are you always tired? Does your fatigue make you feel heavy? Are you lethargic? Does it slow you down? “Yes” answers point to depression.

Researchers Ghanean et al. found that over 90 percent of people with depression suffer from fatigue. Exhaustion makes people unable to do certain things. Laziness, in contrast, makes people unwilling to do things.

Depression causes fatigue by negatively affecting certain neurotransmitters in the brain. Hormones associated with alertness and the reward system, for example, impact energy levels. Other causes of depression fatigue are sleep problems—both too much and too little sleep cause fatigue—a diet high in processed foods and low in nutrients, stress, and even depression medications.

Depression Isn’t Laziness

Reminding yourself of this fact can help you stop criticizing yourself and taking the stigma around laziness to heart. Reframe your notion of productivity, work, or whatever concept is your opposite of laziness—each day, or parts of each day, create one small goal. Do that one little thing and be proud that you did it. Doing a tiny act despite having an illness takes effort and strength. That’s not laziness.

Know that there is no shame in depression. A good doctor will know the difference between depression and laziness and will start to help you heal. Starting with a medical doctor is a good idea so they can rule out other causes of your fatigue and inability to do things. Then, a therapist can work with you to overcome depression and get your motivation back. It’s possible because depression, an illness, isn’t laziness, a trait.

article references

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2021, December 30). Is This Depression or Laziness? How to Tell the Difference, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 19 from

Last Updated: January 9, 2022

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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