To an untrained eye, depression and lack of motivation may look the same. This is far from the truth.
Although there may be many similar signs and symptoms at a glance, the biggest differences come down to personality traits and actual mental health. Depression and many other mental illnesses have been highly stigmatized throughout the years, and many sufferers have been subject to misconceptions and accusations.
It seems as if it is easier to point fingers and judge than actually to understand what this person may be going through. Many aspects of their lives are affected by their mental health, including their sleep patterns.
To make the line between depression and lack of motivation more clear-cut, here are some things to consider:
Mental Health vs. Character Traits
Depression is one of the most commonly found mental health disorders in our modern times. Many people worldwide may have to live with the consequences of having this disorder each day. The professional staff at Prairie Health have seen many people come through their doors seeking assistance for this debilitating illness.
Where depression is classified as an official mental health disorder, lack of motivation is a character trait that could be improved. Mental health disorders like depression may lack motivation as a symptom, but this is usually out of character for them.
With depression, the person may feel less motivated to participate in activities they once enjoyed. Lack of motivation without depression being present would look slightly different. Motivation to do something could be enhanced by encouragement and support, but this may not be the case for depression.
Depression may include various other aspects that are not noticed in someone with a lack of motivation only. A person lacking motivation may have this trait throughout their lives. At the same time, depression may be more episodic, with the individual experiencing intense periods of being demotivated but may recover some motivation after the episode.
While lack of motivation could be a constant character trait of a person, it may be completely out of character for someone with depression.
There are infinitely more emotional connections to depression which may not be present with a pure lack of motivation.
Because being demotivated may be out of character for a person with depression, it may cause many sleepless nights. They know that they need to do something and, in most cases, they want to do this activity, but the lack of energy prevents them from completing these activities.
A person who lacks motivation may not be lacking the energy to do the same activities, but they may lack the willpower to get themselves going. This may not necessarily have them losing any sleep about it, as they chose not to do the activity after all. Having a conscious choice on whether you want to do the activities you need to do daily may be one factor in making the line between depression and lack of motivation clearer.
In many instances, the person with depression may become more depressed because they couldn't complete what they wanted to achieve. This could lead to excess worry and anxiety, and they may lose even more sleep. People who lack motivation only may worry slightly less about that missed deadline. They may even feel that there will be other opportunities to complete the tasks and that it is not worth losing sleep over.
The ability to focus attention on the task at hand may be easier for a person who has a momentary lack of motivation. On the other hand, for a person with depression, it may not be as easy.
Depression may invade a person's thoughts, cause problems with memory, shorten attention span and cause muddled or negative thinking. These are symptoms not commonly noticed with someone lacking motivation.
These invasive thinking patterns could affect a person with depression, making it extremely difficult to focus on a task for longer than a few minutes. This may cause them to jump between thoughts and lose focus on what they need to be doing at that moment.
Having all these thoughts milling around in their head could make the person with depression less inclined to fall asleep easily. They may lie in bed for ages thinking about everything they have to do and haven't done yet, while a person with a pure lack of motivation may not have the same struggles.
Lack of sleep further alters concentration, making it even more difficult to be attentive. When the body and mind are so tired that it cannot focus on tasks, it is easily dismissed as lazy or lacking motivation.
On top of the lack of energy, depression may have other physical aspects that affect their ability to perform.
They may feel restless but lack the physical ability to get themselves to do a task. This listless behavior may not be present in people with a lack of motivation as they would frequently take part in other activities, but avoid the task they lack the motivation for.
Depression may cause a general malaise that influences all the activities of the person's day, not only specific tasks. This may cause oversleeping or frequent naps for a person with depression throughout the day. Some may feel so physically spent that they don't get out of bed at all.
Not having the physical ability to get up from the bed may lead to social withdrawal and isolation, which is not present for merely demotivated people. If people are demotivated, they may seek out a support system or participate in a hobby that may motivate them to complete the task.
Drawing The Line
While depression and lack of motivation may look similar, there are clear distinctions between the two.
Depression is considered a more serious condition caused by chemical imbalances in the body that should be supplemented with medication, whereas this is not the case for someone lacking motivation.
Extensive and regular treatment may be needed in the case of depression, but motivating factors like rewards for a job well done may assist demotivation.
Being depressed does not equal being lazy. They may need support and understanding more than anything else.
For those who suffer, often the initial stage is coping. Using a combination of the solutions is usually the best approach, meaning eating more healthily, getting regular exercise, getting more natural light and avoiding afternoon naps. Ultimately get the help you need, and lean on loved ones as much as necessary. Things will get better.
Impaired sleep can seriously affect your quality of life and productivity. Behavioral changes implemented under the guidance of an experienced clinician can improve sleep quality and help you feel more alert and functional on a regular basis. Sleep is a third of your life – make it count!
Alaska Sleep Clinic is the most comprehensive multi-site sleep lab in Alaska with clinics in Anchorage, Wasilla, Fairbanks, and Soldotna and we continue to expand our services to those with sleep disorders.
Angie Randazzo, PhD, is a specialist in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with expertise in sleep disorders. No other CBT sleep specialist provides care in the state of Alaska. She is available to Alaska Sleep Clinic’s patients via telemedicine, through SleepTM.