Is Apathy an Illness?

Apathy is characterized by the lack of interest in people and activities. You will feel unmotivated and bored with things you used to enjoy. Apathy also refers to the absence of feeling or emotion for anything. You might feel indifferent towards situations that would normally incite concern, anger or happiness from other people.

When should you be concerned about it?


Apathy will cause the person to lose interest in things that used to excite or make him/her happy. There is also a lack of response to most things that happen around the person. They choose to expend no effort and show no motivation because nothing can be derived out of the experience anyway. Although apathy is normal and can disappear after a while (this is called transient apathy), chronic lack of interest and response can affect relationships and performance at work or school.


Apathy itself is not an illness but it is a symptom of various medical conditions such as anxiety. This condition can cause apathy because of emotional fatigue. Anxiety can make the person go through intense emotions that tire them out. Anxious people lose the ability to feel happy because they always think negatively. Negative thoughts in turn make enjoying things difficult for the affected person. This lack of emotion and happiness might also be caused by low levels of serotonin.


Depression and other depressive disorders can cause people to “lose the ability to feel.” You may have heard of songs about feeling numb about the events around them. There is no happiness or even loneliness derived from it. Apathy might be a way for the person to cope with the stress and disappointment. In one type of depressive mood disorder, dysthymia, apathy is prevalent in such condition.


A lot of apathetic people are called lazy, but laziness is different from apathy. Sometimes the lack of motivation is also not caused by depression if it is not accompanied by feelings of hopelessness, guilt, persistent negative thoughts, and extreme sadness. Lazy people do not necessarily have lack of response to rewards. Apathy creates a disconnection and the incapacity to feel anything. Moreover, there may be physical manifestations of apathy such as lesions in the frontal lobe of the brain.


Sometimes called psychotic disorder, schizophrenia is caused by brain abnormalities and creates hallucinations, delusions, and changes in behavior and speech. This is classified today into negative and positive symptoms. Apathy belongs to type 2 or chronic schizophrenia and is considered a negative symptom. Apathy can be an early indication of the condition or it may appear later on along with other symptoms. Schizophrenia will cause the person to lose interest in activities that used to be important to them such as work and personal hygiene.

Other Medical Conditions

Apathy is also a symptom of any of the following medical conditions: stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, vascular or frontotemporal dementia, and progressive supranuclear palsy.

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