What is apathy? Know how lack of emotions may affect your mental health

Apathy is a lack of emotions and motivation in a person. Know how does apathy affect mental health and how to treat it.
A woman with apathy
Check out the signs of apathy and why it happens. Image courtesy: Freepik
Purvi Kalra Published: 12 Apr 2024, 03:45 pm IST
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Have you ever gone through a phase of complete detachment from everything happening in the world around you? You may feel a sheer lack of emotions, motivation or excitement. These are signs of being an apathetic. Contrary to feelings of passion or enthusiasm, apathy means a state in which a person feels devoid of feelings or emotion. When there is a lack of drive within you to lead a fulfilled life, this indifference can directly impact your motivation levels, causing you to lead a life full of monotony. And yes, it does impact your mental health.

What is apathy?

Apathy is not a diagnosis, but a symptom or a state where a person may show a regular range of emotions, such as sadness, happiness, or irritation. The person may appear disconnected from people or situations around them, and may not engage in daily routine life activities, after having been functionally engaged in the past, explains psychologist Geetika Kapoor. When you feel apathetic, you may:

• Stop displaying interest in your daily tasks, hobbies, or personal interests.
• Find it hard to show interest and attachment in your relationships.
• Not feel like spending time with others.
• Experience a lack of emotions or mood swings.

Feelings of apathy heighten during times of extreme stress. But if it becomes persistent, it may start affecting your everyday life and well-being. It could also be an outcome of certain medical or mental health conditions which, if not treated well, can worsen apathy.

Understand everything about apathy right here!

Signs of apathy

Apathy can show up due to underlying medical conditions or could result in response to transient life situations. Therefore, it is important to seek medical evaluation when a person shows signs of apathy, and not assume it as transient. The duration of apathy symptoms will also matter. Usually, any symptom that lasts more than a month should get medical attention and be assessed.

Some of the common signs of apathy include:

• Lack of expression of a regular range of emotions
• Lack of interest in people and situations around them
• Diminished participation in day-to-day activities or to a lesser capacity
• Indifference to own or other people’s illness
• Fatigue
• Loss of pleasure in things you usually cherished
• A tendency to be more by yourself
• Issues with planning or solving problems

Also read: Serotonin vs dopamine: Know the difference between the two happy hormones

Types of apathy

Authors of a 2017 study created the Apathy-Motivation Index and utilised the responses of the participants to help label three different types of apathy:

1. Behavioral apathy

When you have behavioural apathy, you are less likely to show interest or motivation or initiate any goal-directed daily activities on your own.

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2. Social apathy

Social apathy is described as a reduction in a person’s initiative in proposing or engaging in social activities or interactions, according to a study.

3. Emotional apathy

You feel a deep void within you that causes a lack of emotions within you. You might feel indifference towards daily happenings in your life and might not care if your words or actions upset others.

Also read: Fatigue has a major impact your motivation levels, finds study

What causes apathy?

Apathy might not be due to any clear cause, but it can happen due to life conditions or because an individual may be undergoing a certain mental or physical health condition. The expert highlight some main causes of apathy:

1. Medical causes

Neurological and biological reasons could cause apathy. Health conditions that may lead to apathy include Alzheimer’s disease, depression, schizophrenia, frontotemporal dementia, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, or vascular dementia, to name a few.

2. Psychological trauma

Exposure to life- or emotionally-threatening situations can leave people feeling terrified. Emotional numbness can be a usual response which helps people protect themselves from the feelings of overwhelm and continued threat.

3. Prolonged social, professional or personal stress

Prolonged struggles in one’s social, professional or personal arena can lead to a state of emotional overwhelm and burnout. Very similar to the response to trauma, a person may unknowingly withdraw inwards to save themselves from exposure to the stressors, shares psychologist Geeta Kapoor.

Know what apathy means and feels like. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

How is apathy diagnosed?

Since apathy is not a medical condition, but a feeling which could be an outcome of various life scenarios, any therapist or mental health expert can help narrow down the causes. This can be done by identifying the symptoms you might experience to diagnose apathy. However, in neurodegenerative conditions, apathy is measured using certain criteria by healthcare professionals.

This may include loss of motivation, where you show little to no interest in connecting with others or spend more time contemplating, or performing daily tasks. The expert may also understand the effect of apathy on the quality of your life since this feeling of indifference or detachment may negatively affect your work, relationships, or overall life.

How is apathy treated?

Apathy, once recognised and acknowledged, can be treated using multiple ways.

1. Medical evaluation

If you show symptoms of apathy for more than 4 weeks, some tests such as blood tests, mental status exam, genetic tests, brain imaging, and neurologic exams, can be conducted to properly diagnose it after consulting a mental health expert.

2. Seek help from a therapist

In case of psychological trauma or stressful exposure, intervention from a therapist should be sought, suggests the expert. Cognitive stimulation therapy that involves group participation in games or other activities can stimulate brain waves. Alongside, art or music therapies can help people get in touch with their emotions. This can boost positive feelings and instil motivation in apathetic people.

3. Care from close ones

A supportive network comprising close friends and family can help you regain some interest in life. So, it can be worth putting your feelings into words. When your loved ones know that you are experiencing apathy, they will stop taking your indifferent behaviour personally. Family and friends should accept the person’s need to withdraw, and not engage in the rightness or logic of their behaviours

“Creating a less stimulating and calming environment from the loved ones or healthcare professionals may help a person in feeling safe. Family and friends should not push the person towards taking on expected responsibilities. Attempts should be made to understand and approach circumstances from the person’s perspective,” advises the expert.

4. Lifestyle changes

Apathetic people can make tweaks to their way of living. This can be done on your own even without the help of a therapist. Change is normal, so one can start embracing apathy by directing your efforts towards what can be done in the now to get better. Try going out to places you like, eating what makes you happy, spend time with people you relate to, or try something altogether new!

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About the Author

After testing her skill-set in the field of management and marketing, Purvi Kalra is exploring the world of turning thoughts to words. Her penchant for writing stems for being an avid reader all her life. Her work drives her to be better every day. ...Read More

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