Mental Health

This is why depression makes people feel so tired all the time

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Kayleigh Dray
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“Why am I always tired?”

It’s one of the UK’s most Googled questions, but there is no one answer: in fact, there are many possible causes for feeling tired all the time.

It might be as simple as not getting enough sleep, or getting sleep of a poor quality. You could be low in iron. You could be sick (both a flu and glandular fever can cause you to feel absolutely exhausted). You could have a dietary intolerance. The list goes on and on.

One thing that many people don’t realise, though, is that mental health conditions – such as depression and anxiety – can make someone feel mentally and physically exhausted, even after a good night’s sleep. So much so that it’s easy to mistake the symptoms of depression for chronic fatigue syndrome.

In a bid to help people better understand the link between depression and exhaustion, mental health advocate PJ Palits has published an informative Twitter thread on the subject.

“Chances are, if you know someone with a mental disorder or disability, you might have asked them or thought, ‘Why are you tired?’” she writes. “Not many people ask me if I’m OK, but when they do my answer is always the same ‘I’m fine, just tired’ – and people seem to accept that reply.

“For me, ‘I’m tired’ is not a complaint or pessimistic. It’s merely a fact of life.”

She then goes on to explain why living with a mental illness or disability can make people exhausted – and how the sleeping schedule of a person with mental illness differentiates from that of the “average” person. 

“These are people who are in a constant war with their own brain, people who are battling their own thoughts and fears,” continues Palits.

“Hearing every day from their brains they aren’t good enough, strong enough, skinny enough, that people don’t like them or that they should have done better just to list a few things.”

She adds: “These are people who are in a constant war with other people’s judgment and lack of understanding.

“Who are often asked questions or who hear comments like, ‘Why are you always tired?’ ‘Just suck it up deal with it,’ ‘It’s just a lack of discipline,’ ‘It’s all in your head,’ ‘Stop being so pessimistic’ and ‘Stop being so lazy’.”

Palits goes on to say that it can be hard to communicate when you’re suffering from depression, pointing out: “It’s like those who don’t have a strong artistic talent being instructed to create a sculpture using the items around you to present how they currently feel within the next five minutes.”

And she goes on to add that you not only have to deal with side-effects of medication but also the physical symptoms of your mental illness, too.

“These are people who are tired from the side-effects of medication, or self-medicating to cope with the symptoms of their diagnosis and the expectations of society,” she says.

“These are people whose muscles ache constantly or whose muscles are tired from being tense too often, who get frequent headaches or migraines, whose appetite is affected and whose immune system becomes impaired… just to name a few things.”

Considering all of this, Palits says when someone with a mental illness tells you they’re tired, sometimes you need to look beyond their answer. Although they might need sleep, they also might need support.

“I beg of you, on behalf of all of us fighting our own silent battles, please be patient and empathetic,” she finishes.

“Just because you don’t experience it doesn’t mean that it’s not a reality for someone else.”

Depression, according to Mind, is a low mood that causes us to feel sad, hopeless, or miserable about life; these feelings last for a long time, and usually affect our everyday life.

Psychological symptoms include:

• Feeling upset or tearful

• Finding no pleasure in life or the things you usually enjoy

• Feeling isolated and unable to relate to others

• Experiencing a sense of unreality

• Finding yourself unable to concentrate

• Feeling hopeless, empty, or numb

Physical symptoms include:

• Losing interest in sex

• Difficulty sleeping, or sleeping too much

• Physical aches and pains with no cause

• Feeling tired all the time

• Moving very slowly

• Having no appetite and losing weight, or eating too much and gaining weight

However, while there are many signs and symptoms, everyone’s experience of depression will vary. As a general rule of thumb, mental health experts advise that you visit your GP if you experience symptoms of depression for most of the day, every day, for more than two weeks.

You can find out more information – including a series of approved self-care tips – on the Mind website.

Image: iStock


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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.