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One of the most common symptoms of depression is extreme tiredness and fatigue. And yet, one of the most common complaints in today’s world is a persistent feeling of being tired. So how to know if you’re just “normal tired” or “experiencing depression?”

First of all, if you’re experiencing constant tiredness and fatigue, you’re not alone. A Google search for “why am I so tired” shows 1.6 billion results, while searching for “why am I always tired” returns almost 1.2 billion results. Clearly, there are a lot of people looking for information on chronic tiredness.

depression-tired-fatigueAnd it’s no wonder. Our modern society encourages an “always on” mindset. From “hustle culture” to FOMO to 24/7 constant communication, there’s a lot going on these days. There’s always something else to watch, comment on, like, share, and experience online. Our constant connectivity means we are always accessible to friends, family, employers, and customers. Down time has become an event you need to schedule because it doesn’t happen organically. No wonder we’re tired.

General Fatigue, Chronic Fatigue, and Depression

Fatigue is one of the top five most frequent complaints heard in primary care (Source). In a meta-analysis of medical studies, general fatigue was identified in 20% of adults, with chronic fatigue identified in 10% of adults. (Source)

With fatigue so prevalent in general society, it can be difficult to know if you are experiencing normal fatigue or fatigue as a symptom of depression. Normal tiredness and depression are distinct from one another, but both can affect a person’s mental and physical well-being. Here are some key differences to watch for:

Causes of Tiredness or Fatigue

Normal tiredness can usually be attributed to a cause, and those who experience constant tiredness are often able to point to the cause. It can be caused by physical or mental exertion, sleepless nights, or an unusually busy schedule. The “weekend warrior” syndrome, where people spend all week at a low-exertion desk job and then overexert themselves with exercise on the weekend, is a stereotypical example of tiredness with a clearly identifiable cause.

Changes to your sleep routine, such as those brought on by a newborn baby or a switch to an overnight work schedule, are also common causes. Normal tiredness is something most people experience at one time or another, is temporary, and can often be relieved through increased rest, relaxation, a change in schedule, or a concerted effort to improve both the quantity and quality of sleep.

With tiredness caused by depression, it may be harder to identify the root cause. One of the indicators that it may be caused by depression is through the absence of another obvious cause. Tiredness or fatigue caused by depression is typically of longer duration than normal tiredness and may be a recurring condition. It can last for weeks, months, or even years and is not solely attributable to physical fatigue.

Symptoms That Accompany Fatigue

Normal tiredness can be described as a lack of energy, where daily activities may seem undesirable to perform but not impossible to attempt. You may have a strong preference to rest or sleep rather than engage in optional activities, such as social gatherings. The primary complaint is feeling tired all the time, but there are not usually other symptoms that accompany the fatigue, such as behavioral or emotional stress.

If depression is the cause of your fatigue, the tiredness you experience is likely only one of several symptoms. You may also experience a persistent feeling of sadness, loss of interest in activities, not feeling pleasure, changes in your appetite, difficulty concentrating, or intrusive thoughts. Having one or more of these additional symptoms, accompanied by fatigue, is an indicator that your fatigue could be caused by depression.

Degree of Impact

While physical fatigue can reduce productivity and energy levels temporarily, it does not usually lead to a significant impairment in daily functioning or a complete loss of interest in life. Normal tiredness can feel like you are moving slowly – both physically and mentally – as you accomplish tasks, but you are still able to perform necessary tasks.

Depression, on the other hand, often causes a significant impairment in a person’s ability to function in their daily life. Depression can lead to missing work, skipping school, shutting out others, deteriorating personal relationships, and a decline in personal hygiene and self-care. Because all of these activities require some amount of mental or physical energy, they begin to feel impossible to perform when dealing with depression.

Causes of Fatigue Other Than Depression

Feeling tired all the time can be a symptom of multiple medical conditions and does not necessarily indicate you are dealing with depression. Other potential causes of persistent fatigue include poor sleep quality, stress and anxiety, health conditions, certain medications, poor nutrition, drug and alcohol abuse, or living a primarily sedentary lifestyle. Any one of these causes could contribute to a persistent feeling of tiredness that is unrelated to depression.

Should I See a Doctor or Psychiatrist About Chronic Tiredness?

If you are experiencing chronic tiredness, it’s always a good idea to check with your primary care doctor. They can help determine the underlying cause with a thorough medical exam. If your doctor suspects depression or another mental health condition may be the cause of your fatigue, they can refer you to a psychiatrist for more specialized treatment.

However, in most cases, you do not need a referral from your primary care provider in order to see a psychiatrist. If you suspect your chronic tiredness is a symptom of depression, you can book an appointment with a psychiatrist yourself. A psychiatrist can accurately diagnose your condition and provide you with an appropriate care plan.

If you or someone you know is experiencing chronic fatigue, please call us today for an evaluation at 435-776-5909. Our psychiatrists and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners are skilled at helping patients across Utah address mental health conditions, along with their accompanying symptoms. We welcome new patients at our offices in Highland, Utah and South Ogden, Utah.

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