Not having fun? You could be depressed without feeling sad

What if that bullshit feeling you’re feeling could be something more?

Many people suffer from depression and never realize it. The fun has withdrawn from the things they once enjoyed — from the big things, like spending time with loved ones, to the little things, like that random TV show that spiced up Tuesday nights.

But because they never feel sad, they don’t recognize the warning signs.

It’s an issue that Valeria Martinez-Kaigi, PhD, a clinical health psychologist at the Institute of Living, wants more people to understand.

“Someone might say, ‘I don’t feel sad’ and never seek help for depression,” says Dr. Martinez-Kaigi. “Meanwhile, they are misdiagnosed, undiagnosed, untreated.”

Lack of pleasure can be a clue that you are clinically depressed.

Here is a term to learn: anhedonia. It’s a lack of interest, motivation, or enjoyment in doing things you once enjoyed. In brain mechanics, it relates to how we seek out and process rewards. And with or without sadness, it can signal a major depressive disorder.

There is a range of severity to anhedonia, says Dr. Martinez-Kaigi.

Say you normally enjoy kayaking. If you have mild anhedonia, you may find it hard to motivate yourself to get out on the water, but once you do, you’ll probably have fun. With more severe anhedonia, you wouldn’t even enjoy the activity.

Look for anhedonia in the little things – and the big things too.

Maybe you used to love tinkering around in your garden, but now the flowerbeds are overgrown. Maybe you used to feel full of energy catching up with your friends, but now that feeling is boring. Or maybe you’ve been avidly following your favorite baseball team, but haven’t been to a game all summer.

Conclusion: Anhedonia manifests differently for everyone, depending on what everyday life is like for you.

“My patients often tell me that no one has ever fully explained their mental health symptoms. They feel grateful and find it helpful that I take the time to help them understand their symptoms in the context of their lives,” says Dr. Martinez-Kaigi.

Also look for other warning signs of depression.

If you have anhedonia, your doctor or mental health professional will also assess you for other symptoms of major depressive disorder. These could include:

  • Sleep problems.
  • Increased or decreased appetite (often accompanied by weight gain or loss).
  • Feeling restless, nervous.
  • Feeling lethargic, having heavy limbs.
  • Feeling guilty, worthless.
  • Lack of confidence.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Having thoughts of not wanting to live.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Life Line at 1.800.273.8255 or text “HOME” to 741741.

Why ask for help?

If you think you have anhedonia or any of the above signs of depression, talk to your GP or call your insurance company for a list of behavioral health care providers.

“There are so many people who live in an anhedonic state and attribute it to their personality. However, with evidence-based treatment, they could really improve their quality of life and find more pleasure,” says Dr. Martinez-Kaigi.

A few weeks after starting psychotherapy or an antidepressant, you could rediscover all the little things in life that make you happy – and the big things too.

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