When someone says they’re bored, what do you say to them?
That they should look for a new hobby? Visit a new place? Find something useful to do?
You probably wouldn’t recommend that they talk to their doctor about depression.
However, feeling bored, uninterested and low on motivation can be a sign of depression, particularly if it goes on for a long time.
But how do you tell normal boredom and depression apart?
Read on to find out.
Boredom is not as simple as you think it is, it is multi-faceted.
Although you might think of it as a pretty simple feeling, researchers have discovered that there are actually five different types of boredom. 1
We’ve summarised the different types below.
Indifference: feeling uninterested of anything around you
Indifferent boredom happens when you’re just not bothered. You don’t care much about whatever’s going on around you, and you might be daydreaming, staring into space, or feeling like you’re about to fall asleep. It’s the way you might feel during a particularly dull math class.
Apathy: feeling stuck and helpless to change the situation
Feeling apathetic and uninterested is a type of boredom that often arises from feelings of helplessness. You might experience apathetic boredom if you feel trapped in your life and unable to change your circumstances. This type of boredom is common in high school students 2 and can be a sign of depression.
Calibrating: feeling unmotivated of the current task
Ever get so bored that you wish you could be doing anything else, but you’re not quite sure what? You’re experiencing calibrating boredom, which often occurs during dull, repetitive tasks.
Reactant: feeling mad and annoyed
Sometimes you’re so bored that you feel angry, frustrated and aggressive. You might snap at the people you’re with or storm out for no reason. This is reactant boredom, and it can be one of the most distressing forms. You might find yourself feeling extremely restless and obsessing over the other things you’d like to be doing.
Searching: feeling you should be doing something else
Searching boredom feels uncomfortable and motivates you to find new activities to make yourself feel better. For example, if you’re bored at home, you might call a friend to go out for coffee.
Identifying the types of boredom that you experience most often can be really helpful.
You’ll be able to identify the factors that are making you bored, and look for positive changes you could make.
So…how can you tell boredom and depression apart?
It’s important not to jump to conclusions straight away – just being bored doesn’t necessarily mean you’re depressed.
However, staying vigilant ensures that you can seek treatment straight away if your boredom seems to be a symptom of a more serious problem.
Read on for tips on spotting the differences between boredom and depression in adults and children. 3
For children, boredom can be easily solved.
When a child is bored, they’ll usually be keen to be engaged in a new activity. For example, a bored child who’s sitting around looking miserable might cheer up the moment you offer to play a game with them, take them to the park, or bake a cake together.
On the other hand, a child who is bored as a result of depression may not be responsive to activities. They might refuse to take part in play, ask to be left alone, or show little interest in things they normally enjoy.
It can be hard for children to understand their feelings and express themselves clearly.
If you’re concerned about your child’s mental health, it’s always a good idea to speak to a professional.
But for adults, to figure out what’s going on, you need to reflect on yourself.
Some boredom is normal, but when it starts to impact your day-to-day life, it’s time to seek help.
Have you experienced any of the following?
- Losing interest in hobbies and activities you used to enjoy.
- Feeling hopeless about your boredom.
- Being unable to take steps to alleviate your boredom.
- Not doing important things because you feel so bored.
- Getting angry with yourself for feeling bored.
Speaking to a medical professional will allow you to get to the bottom of why you feel the way you do. They’ll then help you develop a plan to improve your mental health and decrease boredom.
Boredom isn’t always harmless.
Watch out for key warning signs and seek help immediately if you think you might be depressed.