Losing interest or pleasure in activities or people that once gave you enjoyment, may be due to overworking, relationship problems or being in a temporary rut. However, a loss of interest in many things or people, that is ongoing, can sometimes be a sign you have a mental health condition.
What symptoms are related to losing interest?
If you have lost interest in activities that used to give you pleasure, you may also lose motivation to do things. You may feel that you don’t want to go out, which can leave you isolated. You may not be able to concentrate.
Other symptoms that may go along with losing interest are feeling unhappy, feeling flat or numb, sleep problems, tiredness, loss of appetite and stomach problems.
What conditions may have loss of interest as a symptom?
If loss of interest has gone on for 2 weeks or more, it can be a sign of a mental health condition or other condition, including:
- depression — loss of interest is a key symptom of depression
- bipolar disorder — loss of interest can be a sign of an impending depression episode
- anxiety — loss of interest and also avoidance of situations that make you anxious may be symptoms
- schizophrenia — symptoms include low motivation, not being able to feel happiness, withdrawal from activities and friends
- stress and burnout — long-term stress can lead to burnout, where you lose motivation and interest, and withdraw from people
- substance abuse — can lead to loss of interest and withdrawing from activities, loss of friends and conflict
- grief — some people will experience a temporary loss of interest in activities that they used to enjoy
When should I see my doctor?
If you are experiencing ongoing symptoms (more than 2 weeks) such as losing interest in activities or people, feeling sad most of the time, not sleeping well, appetite changes, lack of motivation, restlessness or difficulty concentrating, you should see your doctor.
Conditions like depression can worsen over time if untreated, so seek help early.
Your doctor will talk to you about your symptoms, examine you, and may suggest some tests (for example blood tests) to rule out any physical conditions. They can diagnose mental health problems, and also refer you to a mental health professional if you need one. Doctors can write you a Mental Health Treatment Plan, if relevant. This can provide you with Medicare rebates for appointments with certain mental health professionals, such as psychologists and counsellors.
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Are there any treatments for loss of interest?
If your symptoms are due to a mental health condition, then your doctor will be able to advise appropriate treatments.
For example, if you have depression or anxiety, treatment might include psychological therapy, such as cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), or medications.
There are also things you can do yourself that may help you feel better.
Self-help for loss of interest
Here are a few things you can try to help motivate yourself and get back on track when you are experiencing a lack of interest.
Get up and move about
Physical activity can help improve your mood and make you feel less sluggish and less tired.
Take a walk, go for a swim, or try another type of exercise to get the blood flowing. Even doing just 5 minutes of activity can help with mood and encourage you to build up to do more. Spending time outside also helps with sleep and mood.
Healthy eating habits are linked to better mental health than an unhealthy diet. The Mediterranean diet, with its high consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes, moderate consumption of poultry, eggs and dairy products, and occasional consumption of red meat, has been shown to reduce the risk of depression and is a good diet to help mental health.
Get enough sleep
Try to get enough restful sleep. Sleeping badly can make depression and other mental health conditions worse, so practise good sleep hygiene to try to improve the quality of your sleep.
Set yourself small jobs
These could be around the house or garden. For example, have a clean-out and give some of your unwanted items to charity. This will help keep you occupied and give you something positive to concentrate on.
Do things you normally enjoy
You may have lost enthusiasm and energy for some of the things you previously liked to do, but try to do smaller things to do with your hobby or friends. Pets can be a source of companionship and stress relief, so try and spend time with your pet.
Make plans for the future
Having an outing or enjoyable activity to look forward to is a good way to break up a negative mood. Even if you don’t feel like it now, it can give you something to look forward to.
Be open with your family and friends
Make sure your partner and friends know what you’re going through. Spending time with other people can help improve a person’s mood.
Take things one step at a time. Be prepared that you might have some setbacks, but have faith that you will get there eventually.
If you find that you have lost interest in sex, try to find some non-sexual activities you can do with your partner that you will both enjoy. Make sure you tell your partner that your lack of interest in sex or physical affection is a symptom of how you feel, and not a rejection of them.
Loss of sexual desire can be a side-effect of some antidepressant medicines, so if you think this may be the case, tell your doctor. There may be another medicine you can take.
Resources and support
If you need help, talking to your doctor is a good place to start. If you’d like to find out more or talk to someone else, here are some organisations that can help:
- MindSpot Clinic (anyone suffering from anxiety or depression) — call 1800 61 44 34.
- Beyond Blue (anyone feeling depressed or anxious) — call 1300 22 4636 or chat online.
- Black Dog Institute (people affected by depression and extreme mood swings) — online help.
- Lifeline (anyone experiencing a crisis or thinking about suicide) — call 13 11 14 or chat online.
- Suicide Call Back Service (anyone thinking about suicide) — call 1300 659 467.
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Last reviewed: February 2022