Yes, I’m an Introvert. No, I’m Not Depressed.

IntrovertDear.com depression introvert

When Amanda was in high school, she spent a lot of time alone in her bedroom. She read comics, played a lot of video games, and chatted with other creative types over AOL Instant Messenger (it was the late 90s, after all). She shied away from “real world” activities like joining after-school clubs or hanging out at friends’ houses.

What she needed, instead, was time to process.

“Being a teenager is exhausting. There are all sorts of things to process emotionally about relationships [like] why that guy you’re really into won’t give you the time of day because you’re not fitting a certain personality type,” she told me. “When I’m alone, just able to think and relax, that’s when I process the world the best.”

Naturally, this worried her parents, who are more extroverted than Amanda.

They started to wonder if Amanda was depressed. Spending this much time alone couldn’t be good for a teenager, they figured. She should be out having fun, goofing around with a gaggle of friends, like normal teenagers do… right?

Amanda’s parents weren’t the only ones who worried. Her teachers noticed that she was “always in [her] notebook.” At one point, they called a meeting with her parents. “Basically, [my teachers] told me to participate or else,” she said when I was writing my book, The Secret Lives of Introverts. “I felt like I was defective, or a bad kid. I was just waiting for them to send me off to therapy or something so I could be ‘fixed.’”

Was Amanda depressed? Nope. Turns out, she’s an introvert — a fact she didn’t discover until later in life. At the time, she didn’t understand that being around people drained her. She felt like a freak for wanting to spend so much time alone.

And when the adults in her life thought there was something wrong with her, it only made her feel worse.

Introversion Is Often Mislabeled as Depression

Amanda isn’t the only person who’s introversion has been confused with depression. When writing my book, many introverts told me that their quiet ways have been “misdiagnosed” by parents, teachers, and other loved ones as mental illness — especially when they were teenagers or young adults.

This is a real problem. It’s usually a more extroverted type who does the misdiagnosing. The extrovert feels that the person in question must be suffering from depression, because why on earth would someone want to stay home alone when there are parties to attend and fun to be had? The extrovert fails to see that what’s fun for him or her is not necessarily fun for the introvert.

But there’s nothing wrong with living a chill life. Due to a biological difference in the way introverts and extroverts respond to rewards, introverts tend to have their own definition of fun. “Fun” is usually not parties and people and doing all the things, but rather a meaningful conversation, a good book, or a relaxing afternoon to yourself.

Telling kids it’s wrong to enjoy life quietly can lead to shame and stigmatization. No wonder so many introverts grow up feeling bad about who they are.

Also, when we misdiagnose, it prevents the actual problem from being solved. Amanda didn’t need to go on antidepressants and see a therapist. What she needed was to learn how to better manage her energy.

Later in life, that’s exactly what she did — and it made all the difference.

Do Introverts Get Depressed?

This doesn’t mean that introverts don’t ever suffer from depression. In fact, some research suggests that introverts are more likely than extroverts to experience depression and anxiety. Robert McPeek, director of research at the Center for Applications of Psychological Type, suspects this has to do with the fact that introverts are more self-critical — although more realistic in their self-assessments — than extroverts. Chalk it up to depressive realism.

And while I won’t pretend to have all the answers, I’d be willing to bet it also has something to do with living in a society that frequently overstimulates you and demands that you conform to an ideal that pushes you past your comfort zone. Or is that just me?

To better understand the differences between introversion and depression, I turned to Pete Shalek, CEO and founder of Joyable, a company that helps people overcome depression and social anxiety using an online program.

He told me that although depression and introversion can look similar at first glance, the two are very different, indeed. Signs of depression include:

  • Reduced interest in things you used to enjoy
  • Feeling down or hopeless
  • Trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much
  • Poor appetite or eating too much
  • Feeling bad about yourself
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Moving or speaking slowly or being fidgety and restless
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide

“While avoiding social situations, disengaging, and being alone can be part of a person’s experience with depression, it is often not the whole picture,” he told me. “Introversion is a personality trait where people prefer more time alone so they can focus on thoughts, feelings, and moods rather than external stimulus. If an individual feels engaged and enjoys the time alone, it’s more likely introversion than depression.”

Cherish Introversion, Treat Depression

It’s important to know the difference between introversion and depression for another important reason. When cherished and embraced, introversion is a temperament that can bring many glorious gifts. Introverts are capable of concentrating deeply and thinking creatively. They are often quite conscientious, have high levels of empathy, and think carefully before they speak and act.

Depression, on the other hand, can seriously hamper a person’s quality of life. The good news is that it’s treatable.

“Depression isn’t your fault and it isn’t forever,” Shalek told me. “For most people, depression can be treated successfully.”

Of course, everyone feels blue from time to time. How do you know when it’s time to seek treatment for depression? According to Shalek, you could benefit from evidence-based help if you:

  1. Consistently feel down or unmotivated, with these feelings lasting for extended periods of time, or
  2. If your feelings negatively impact your life (for example, your relationships or your ability to concentrate and work effectively).

Joyable offers an online, research-based cognitive behavioral program that teaches people how to change their thoughts and actions in ways that are proven to make them feel better.

For Amanda, learning about her introversion was life changing. Today, because she understands what causes her energy depletion, she’s better able to regulate her time so she doesn’t get as exhausted. After work, she takes a few minutes to wind down before interacting with her husband and young children. When the kids start stressing her out, she takes a 5-10 minute break to sit in silence while they’re occupied with something else.

“I’ve gotten to the point where I can have friend visits once or twice a week and not feel rundown and crabby after the fact,” she said. “And I can schedule side activities in a more productive way that doesn’t completely ruin me.”

And, embracing her introversion brought an unexpected upside. “A lot of my anxiety issues involving people have faded, and I’m more energized in the moment of my interactions,” she said. “I’ve actually become a much more social person.”

Note: Amanda’s name has been changed to protect her privacy. retina_favicon1

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Learn more: The Secret Lives of Introverts: Inside Our Hidden World, by Jenn Granneman 

Read this: How to Survive a Job Interview When You’re an Introvert With Crippling Social Anxiety

  • KRAFFT

    It’s worth noting that various research-based modalities of therapy such as psychotherapy, including art therapy (and other arts therapies), have been proven over decades to have notably high efficacy in treating symptoms of depression and anxiety.

  • njguy54

    In all the alerts and scares parent hear about dangers to teenagers (suicide, drug use, etc.), the top “warning signs” are “spending time alone” and “lack of participation in social activities.” The implication is if you’re spending a lot of time by yourself, you must be up to something.

    It’s a challenge raising awareness that these behaviors are not necessarily bad when so much of the world sees solitude as a threat. It’s no accident that one of the key elements of mind control used by religious cults is forced socialization. No one is allowed to be alone, lest they start thinking independently. Less diabolically, “loners” are often seen as sad, losers or even dangerous (“He was such a quiet young man who kept to himself. I can’t believe he killed all those people…”). Success in life (or at least normalcy) is often measured by the size of the groups one hangs with, the frequency with which that group meets up, and its visibility (so everyone knows you’re one of the cool kids).

    • Uncol Thanatos

      This is a great descriptor of my childhood. When I wasn’t at school, I was generally at home, in my room, doing things by myself. I didn’t have many friends and I didn’t want to hang out with many people. To top it off, I wasn’t doing well in school at all… I was lucky to be scraping by with C’s and D’s. My parents thought I was depressed so they took me to a psychologist who suggested medication that ACTUALLY made me depressed. They thought I was on drugs so they took me to get tested. They always tried to get me outside and doing things with my friends. It was all done out of love and support, but to me (at the time) is was a sign of distrust. They didn’t trust me when I said I was fine and I liked being alone after a long day at school. They didn’t trust me when I said that I hate school because I can’t concentrate with all the people there, and that I had zero interest in any of the classes. I was good at math, but I hated it. Had the classes been more STEM oriented, I would have excelled. But I digress. It’s been many years now and I can look back and appreciate what they did, but at the time… wow… I felt like I was under the microscope, which puts people like myself in a miserable state, especially when the teenage years are already confusing enough.

  • Stephen Welch

    The fact is that introversion has been “pathologized” by the medical community. Why? Because the extroverts are driving the train. Too many times introversion has been diagnosed as avoidant personality disorder, depression, anxiety, social anxiety disorder, etc. It takes a highly skilled and sensitive doctor to tease out the difference and respect individual differences but when insurance only covers 10 minute sessions you just get a junk diagnosis and prescription tossed at you.

  • njguy54

    Never underestimate the power of being able to name and define something. And welcome aboard.

  • Uncol Thanatos

    It really is eye opening and helps clear up who you are. It was the same for me.. misdiagnosed depression turning to actual depression. Once I realized that it’s ok to be different than the outspoken, and that I’m not the only one that feels like staying home, I finally became comfortable in my own skin.I didn’t feel bad about telling people no.