What’s the Difference Between Being Lazy or Depressed?

There are still some truly awful stigmas associated with having depression. As is common with many mental illnesses, people may ascribe issues of character to what is in fact a chronic illness. Oftentimes, those suffering from depression are referred to as unmotivated or lazy when the truth is entirely different. Depression is a psychological disorder that happens against a person’s consent and no amount of willpower can make it go away.

The Differences between Laziness and Depression

If you’re questioning whether you’re lazy or depressed, ask yourself if all you lack is motivation. “Laziness” is a matter of making a choice to not do a particular activity or activities, but depression is a chronic illness. Laziness may be a momentary state or an issue of character, but it is not a psychological disorder. Further, if you’re concerned you might be lazy, ask yourself if you’re feeling deeply sad, have disengaged from things you used to love, and are having problems with sleep, energy levels, or your ability to concentrate. These are all hallmark symptoms of depression.

What Is Depression?

Depression is a common psychological illness affecting a little over 8 percent of American adults. It affects all aspects of life, from how you think to how you feel and behave. Not only is depression characterized by deep, unrelenting sadness, but depression also causes people to lose the ability to feel pleasure. People lose interest in things they once enjoyed, withdraw from social life and relationships, may lose or gain weight without trying, and can suffer from a variety of physical problems.

Depression causes a person to feel tired and lethargic. It also ruins one’s ability to be interested in anything, particularly activities that were once enjoyable (anhedonia). Depression causes one’s energy levels to collapse as well, even though they may be sleeping much more than usual. In fact, hypersomnia (excessive sleeping) is one of the most common symptoms of depression.

For a depression diagnosis to be made, symptoms must be present for at least two weeks. The most common symptoms in their respective categories are:


  • Extreme sadness, mostly every day, usually without any identifiable cause
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness, in the absence of any cause
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyable (anhedonia)
  • Feeling cut off or unable to engage with others, activities or former interests
  • Feelings of emptiness
  • Excessive worry, rumination
  • Elevated anxiety
  • Snappishness, irritability


  • Brain fog (muddled or fuzzy thinking)
  • Difficulty concentrating, inability to focus one’s thoughts
  • Diminished attention span
  • Problems with one’s memory
  • Negative outlook (“it’s all my fault, nothing will change, nothing will get better”)
  • Thoughts of suicide

Behavioral and Physical:

  • Persistent lack of energy
  • Restlessness
  • Slowed movements, difficulty with or reduced speed in simple physical tasks (psychomotor retardation)
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Social withdrawal
  • Self-isolation


What Causes Depression?

Our thoughts and emotions are regulated by complex chemicals called neurotransmitters and neuromodulators. Our nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord, is completely dependent on these chemicals for their proper functioning. Researchers believe that when the production of neurotransmitters falls outside of normal levels, depression, as well as other psychological disorders, are the result.

Without adequate levels of these chemical messengers, our brain works slower and less efficiently. One neurotransmitter, dopamine, is responsible for our ability to feel pleasure. Another serotonin, helps us experience and modulate our emotions. When brain tissue has a problem properly responding to or producing neurotransmitters, we suffer.

When approached in this way, it’s easy to see that although depression is experienced psychologically, it’s very much a physical ailment.

Treatment for Depression

There are several excellent treatments for depression, including psychotherapy and medication therapy.  Since 2008, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) has been used as a rapid, painless, and non-invasive treatment for depression. In TMS, a powerful and precise magnetic field is applied to an area of the brain that regulates mood. Many people experience no side effects and receive lasting relief from depression through TMS.

This blog post is meant to be educational in nature and does not replace the advice of a medical professional. See full disclaimer. 


Works Cited

Buyukdura, J., McClintock, S., & Croarkin, P. (2011, March 30). Psychomotor retardation in depression: biological underpinnings, measurement, and treatment. Progress in neuro-psychopharmacology & biological psychiatry. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3646325/.

George, M., Wassermann, E., Williams, W., Callahan, A., Ketter, T., & Basser, P. (1995, October 2). Daily repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) improves mood in depression. Retrieved from https://insights.ovid.com/crossref?an=00001756-199510020-00008

Major Depression. (n.d.). Retrieved June 4th, 2021, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression.shtml

Prevalence of Depression Among Adults Aged 20 and Over: United States, 2013–2016 Number 303 – February 2018. (2018, February 13). Retrieved June 2nd 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db303.htm

Risk Factors and Warning Signs. (2018, November 14). Retrieved April 10, 2020, from https://afsp.org/about-suicide/risk-factors-and-warning-signs/

What are neurotransmitters? Queensland Brain Institute. (2017, November 9). https://qbi.uq.edu.au/brain/brain-physiology/what-are-neurotransmitters.

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