Are Depression and Exhaustion the Same Thing?

January 13, 2014 Paulissa Kipp

There is a connection between depression and exhaustion. But how do you tell the difference between depression and being overly tired? Find out.

I lost a friend to suicide last week. A friend who struggled, triumphed and sadly, lost the battle with his mind. I have witnessed many of my friends and loved ones struggle with mental illness and it is heartbreaking on many levels.

Yet a *blessing* appeared in the form of a friend who experienced watching another friend’s depression and wanted to understand the cycle of depression better. I will share with you what my response was. DISCLAIMER: I am NOT a licensed therapist. I AM a PTSD, panic attack and bipolar disorder survivor. All answers are my personal opinion and my experience as it relates to my diagnoses.

My friend wrote (paraphrased for brevity):

This can be a learning time for me. How does exhaustion or being overly stressed fit into the time of depression? How do you tell the difference between depression and being overly tired? Inform me!

My response:

I will do my best to thoughtfully answer your question. Please keep in mind that my specific answers pertain only to me, though I do have first-hand observations as they relate to the students I teach. It would be unfair of me to answer this question on their behalf. Let me preface this by stating that the experiences of depression are very individual, as is the treatment thereof. PTSD, bipolarity, multiple personality disorder, chemical depression, clinical depression, panic disorder and generalized depression manifest differently in each sufferer.

The short answer is that depression, overwhelm, exhaustion and being overly tired is much like the chicken and the egg question because one can beget the other. High stress, external forces beyond our control and lack of quality sleep can lead to generalized depression and for those who also deal with panic attacks, can ramp up those triggers.

The Cycle of Depression and Exhaustion

Depression, once it is triggered (or for the person with bipolar disorder, once that person enters the low cycle) can create a bone crushing exhaustion and sense of overwhelm that makes it very difficult to function and practice self-care. For example, when I am in a severe depressive state (defined in my case as overwhelm or anxieties that last for longer than a week and do not respond to any meds, any coping strategies, etc) the thought of cooking for myself becomes too much to deal with and I will eat cereal for days.

I become lethargic because the overwhelm tires me out, the joints hurt and I don’t sleep well at night (not entering rapid eye movement sleep has been shown to manifest depression and anxiety attacks). The exhaustion is very real.

The difference between being overly tired and the exhaustion/depressive cycle is in my opinion, the length of time that the depression symptoms are present. If someone is “overly tired” but recovers to a normal state within a couple of days, that is more “situational depression” than clinical or chemical depression. While allowing that state of overwhelm is not a healthy pattern on an on-going basis, it would not necessarily meet a diagnosis of depression.

That your friend calls it depression means she is aware that the cycle is not healthy. Hopefully, she is working to either change her lifestyle in recognition of that fact or seeking professional help to learn to make the necessary changes.

Depression Can Trigger Exhaustion Via Panic Attacks

Depression can be triggered by stress, but for those with clinical depression and the various types of mental illness, sometimes we become prisoners of our mind. By that I mean that if I am having panic attacks, sometimes I can recognize a trigger and head it off before it becomes a screaming, crying, hyperventilating, chest-crushing thing. Other times I don’t know that something will be a panic inducing situation.

The cycle of depression and panic is such that once one has gone “over the cliff” so to speak, there is a fear and hyper vigilance that can be self-defeating. The panic creates fear of "When and where will this happen again? How much will I be able to handle? At what point will this interfere with my goals, my relationships, and my ability to hold, find or perform my job? How much will I have to change my life to cope?"

The sufferer can take positive steps to reduce stress by exercising, working to get at least 7 hours of sleep, avoiding stimulants, recognizing overwhelm and working to delegate tasks, saying no more often, setting healthy boundaries, changing priorities, etc. Cognitive therapy and medication can help as well.

As you can see, depression is very complex and quite hard to navigate. Navigating our mind and hearts without blinders is courageous and one of the hardest things that many of us will ever have to do. Somehow, learning about our strengths and weaknesses can be scarier than the monster under the bed.

Bless you for caring enough to ask the question. I hope my answers have provided a little useful insight.

You can also connect with Paulissa Kipp on Google+, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest and her website, Paulissakippisms.

APA Reference
Kipp, P. (2014, January 13). Are Depression and Exhaustion the Same Thing?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 19 from

Author: Paulissa Kipp

Dr Musli Ferati
February, 8 2014 at 9:29 pm

Clinically depression ans exhaustion are the same phenomenology, but there are precise psychiatric criteria to distinguishes one from another. This discrimination has got great importance in appropriate treatment of these similar psychiatric entities. Indeed, depression indicates complex emotional syndrome where the feeling of sadness takes place central space. Furthermore, it embraces the sense of exhaustion as result of "sui generis" symptom of depression. As it is known, exhaustion may be the consequences of different somatic and psychic disorders, further on as reaction to traumatic experiences, as result of physical, mental prostration etc. On the other hand, each exhaustion state may to go over to depressive illness. Thus, the circle of these two psychiatric disturbances become perplex one. The main criterion that discriminate depression from exhaustion is the duration of depressive symptoms; versus transient difficulties in exhaustion state. In order to overcome this dilemma, it ought to seek psychiatric help, even the predicat factors are clear.

July, 31 2017 at 7:19 am

For me, Exhaustion is only one of the symptoms of my depression, It means things are not good.

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