Sleep is an important part of overall health, but for many, it does not come easily. Millions of Americans report feeling fatigue — a feeling of tiredness or exhaustion.

Many different factors, ranging from poor sleep to health conditions, can cause fatigue. It’s also a common symptom of mental health conditions, such as depression.

Being fatigued doesn’t mean you’re depressed, but fatigue can be a warning sign. Learn more about the link between the conditions.

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What Is Fatigue?

Fatigue is a long-lasting lack of energy or motivation.

It’s common to feel tired after not getting enough sleep, but fatigue is something more serious. It can last weeks or longer. In addition to feeling tired, you may not have the interest or energy to perform tasks.

The causes of fatigue include:

  • Depression or grief
  • Sleep disorders
  • Medications
  • Drugs or alcohol
  • Overactive or underactive thyroid
  • Medical conditions (cancer, heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease, diabetes, etc.)
  • Chronic pain
  • Anemia or iron deficiency

Depression and Fatigue

Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses in the United States. About 1 in 4 American women and 1 in 10 American men will deal with depression at some time in their lives.

Although many people deal with sadness or grief, depression can cause those feelings over a long period of time — typically two weeks or longer. Depression also can affect your interest in or your ability to perform everyday tasks.

Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of depression. There can be physical effects (lack of energy), emotional effects (apathy), and cognitive effects (difficulty concentrating).

However, the two aren’t always linked. It’s possible to be fatigued without being depressed, and it’s possible to be depressed without being fatigued. Fatigue and depression also could be symptoms of a medical condition like cancer, or side effects of medication.

When Should I Talk to My Doctor About Fatigue?

It’s normal to feel fatigued from time to time. However, if that feeling lasts for two weeks or more, or it affects your daily life, you should contact your doctor.

Because fatigue can come from many causes, you should pay attention to any other symptoms you’re feeling. If your tiredness is associated with other symptoms of depression, you should talk to your doctor to see if you have a depressive disorder.

Other warning signs of depression include:

  • Persistent grief or sadness
  • Feeling hopeless or helpless
  • Anger or irritability
  • Losing interest in activities
  • Different eating habits
  • Low energy
  • Concentration problems
  • Physical pain
  • Suicidal thoughts

For more information about different mental health conditions, including depression, call UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital at 1-877-624-4100 or 412-624-1000.

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Howard LeWine, M.D. When should you worry about fatigue?. Harvard Health Publishing. Melinda Smith, M.A., Lawrence Robinson, and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D.. Depression Symptoms and Warning Signs. HelpGuide. Fatigue – You're More Than Just Tired. National Safety Council. Steven D. Targum, MD, and Maurizio Fava, MD. Fatigue as a Residual Symptom of Depression. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Fatigue. MedlinePlus.

About UPMC Western Behavioral Health

UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is the hub of UPMC Behavioral Health, a network of community-based programs providing specialized mental health and addiction care for children, adolescents, adults, and seniors. Our mission is to provide comprehensive, compassionate care to people of all ages with mental health conditions. UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is a nationally recognized leader in mental health clinical care, research, and education. It is one of the nation’s foremost university-based psychiatric care facilities through its integration with the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. We are here to help at every stage of your care and recovery.