Am I Depressed? How To Tell The Difference Between Depression And Exhaustion

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Feeling exhausted? In this modern age, it's easy to succumb to the stresses and strains of every day life, which can leave you feeling exhausted all the time with little energy to do anything at all.

But it might not be as easy as that. You'd probably think that the symptoms of depression and exhaustion aren't exactly interchangeable - after all, one is primarily a mental condition, whilst the other is, mostly, a physical condition.

But the symptoms of both illnesses can actually be very similar - meaning it can sometimes be hard to differentiate between the two to find out whether you really are depressed. And to make matters more difficult, they can of course occur simultaneously, meaning you could be depressed and exhausted at the same time - although, evidently, one can have a domino effect on the other.

Interestingly, although they are two separate conditions, one doctor admitted how similar the symptoms are. Herbert Freudenberger, a German psychologist, spoke about exhaustion and burn out at work, and described it by saying "It looks like depression."

But despite this, there are some ways to tell if you're depressed or, more simply, suffering from a massive burn out. So how can you tell if you're exhausted or depressed?

What is depression?

It's important to know that depression is more than simply 'feeling sad'. It's a real illness, with very real symptoms. It generally manifests itself in intense feelings of despair or sadness - leaving people unwilling or unable to connect with the outside world.

People suffering from the condition can have mild or severe symptoms - but each are equally difficult to deal with.

The causes of depression can vary, with many instances being triggered by huge, upsetting life events, such as a death or losing a job.

Do I have depression? Some of the symptoms of depression...

The best bet is to first examine the symptoms of both conditions, exhaustion and depression, against one another. Some psychological symptoms of depression can include a continuous low mood, having low self-esteem, feeling tearful, irritable and intolerant of others, finding yourself with little motivation, and/or having little enjoyment in things you previously liked

Physical symptoms can also accompany depression, and might include a decline in appetite and weight, aches and pains, a dissipation of energy, a low libido, and disrupted sleep.

Signs of depression in women and signs of depression in men are generally similar, although one chief difference is men not realising that chronic pain can go hand-in-hand with a mental disorder, according to focus groups conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health.

So what about the symptoms of exhaustion?

Exhaustion symptoms can mirror symptoms of depression - most specifically of course, a low mood, feeling irritable, finding yourself with little motivation, weight loss, and a dissipation of energy. And, of course, disrupted sleep can in turn cause exhaustion - so it's undeniably a vicious circle.

But exhaustion can also cause some symptoms you might not see with depression. These could be vomiting and diarrhoea, fevers and chills, muscle weakness or pain.

Chronic fatigue syndrome, a condition in which you feel extreme tiredness, can also be cause symptoms of exhaustion. This can also cause other more distressing physical symptoms, such as muscle or jointpain, headaches, a sore throat, flu-like symptoms, feeling dizzy or sick, or heart palpitations.

So if you're feeing any of the above symptoms, in addition to the more general ones, it may be exhaustion you're suffering with, rather than depression.

But ultimately, it's always a good idea to get to your GP if you think you're suffering from either exhaustion or depression. They'll be able to evaluate your symptoms more accurately, and get a better diagnosis.

So while it IS difficult to try and work out if you're suffering from depression, or are simply exhausted, it's worth taking the time to try and figure it out.

Most obviously, it's important to get it sorted in order to ensure you get the right type of treatment. While the two can be treated similarly, with medication and things like cognitive behavioural therapy, how much, why and when you need it all need to be seen to, dependant on your condition.

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How to help someone with depression

Helping someone with depression can be a tricky thing to do, but the first step is ensuring they understand why they need the help, and importantly, that they want it.

Affecting one in ten people throughout their lifetime, it's a common condition - but one that can be treated. Generally, treating depresson can involve a combination of lifestyle changes, therapy, and medication.

Anti-depressants might be prescribed, and, as mentioned, CBT can usually help people to come to terms with why they're feeling the way they are.

Amy Hunt

Amy Hunt is an experienced digital journalist specialising in homes, interiors and hobbies. She began her career working as the features assistant at woman&home magazine, before moving over to the digital side of the brand where she eventually became the Lifestyle Editor up until January 2022. Amy won the Digital Journalist of the Year award at the AOP Awards in 2019 for her work on