Anhedonia is a word that describes a reduced interest in activities an individual used to enjoy, as well as a decreased ability to feel pleasure. It’s a core symptom of major depressive disorder, but it can also be a symptom of other mental health disorders.

Not everyone who experiences anhedonia has a diagnosed mental health issue.

While researchers are still debating whether anhedonia can truly be categorized into two main types, some literature suggests that this mental health issue can be divided into social anhedonia and physical anhedonia.

Social anhedonia is often defined as an increased disinterest in all aspects of interpersonal relationships and a lack of pleasure in social situations. Physical anhedonia is an inability to feel tactile pleasures such as eating, touching, or sex.

The symptoms of anhedonia can include:

  • social withdrawal
  • diminished pleasure derived from daily activities
  • a lack of relationships or withdrawal from previous relationships
  • less of an interest in previous hobbies
  • a loss of libido or a lack of interest in physical intimacy

Some examples of what it feels like to experience anhedonia:

  • You used to love playing in a soccer league in the evenings but now no longer have the desire to play the game or interact with anyone from your team.
  • Cooking used to be a favorite hobby of yours, but now you aren’t interested in it anymore and sometimes have to remind yourself to eat.
  • You’re no longer excited to go out with friends.
  • You feel indifferent or withdrawn from your partner, and have a severely lowered libido.
  • An activity that used to fill you with happiness, such as going to see live music, no longer provides positive feelings.

While anhedonia can be a sign of a serious mental health condition, it’s important to resist self-diagnosis. If you believe you may be dealing with anhedonia, talk with your doctor or a mental health professional as soon as you can.

Anhedonia is a core symptom of depression and schizophrenia but has also been identified in individuals dealing with chronic pain and Parkinson’s disease.

Additionally, it can be caused by substance misuse (like habitually using illegal drugs).

One important note of differentiation: Anhedonia is not the same as social anxiety, which is categorized as withdrawal from social situations due to a fear of how those situations might go. If an individual is dealing with anhedonia, they avoid social situations because there seems to be no reward or point to participating.

If you have been diagnosed with depression or schizophrenia, there is an increased risk of developing anhedonia. Other risk factors include:

Your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms and your general mood. They may also ask if you have a history of using substances such as illegal drugs.

Your doctor may perform a physical exam to determine if you have any physical problems.

Additionally, your doctor may order a blood draw to test for a vitamin deficiency (like vitamin D) or a thyroid problem, which could be contributing to symptoms of depression.

Anhedonia can be challenging to treat. In many cases, treatment starts with tools to help you manage the mental health issue that’s likely causing the symptom, such as depression.

The first step in your treatment should be seeking the help of a medical professional. A primary care professional should be your first choice to rule out a medical cause of your symptoms. If they don’t find any medical issues, they may recommend you see a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental health professional.

A primary care professional can refer you to a therapist, or you can ask your insurance company to help you find someone.

Medications and therapy

Your treatment may include talk therapy, along with prescription medications such as antidepressants. In some cases, other classes of medications may be recommended, your doctor will help you create a treatment plan that is right for you.

You should take the medication as prescribed and let your doctor know if you have any side effects. They may need to adjust your dosage or medication.

These medications affect people in different ways. A medication that works for you may not work for someone else with the same symptoms.

ECT therapy

Another type of treatment that may be used in some cases is electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). ECT is one of the most effective treatments for severe depression that has not been relieved by therapy or medication. Some experts feel that it should be used sooner rather than later — especially with people who have uncomplicated depression.

During this treatment, a doctor places electrodes on the head and applies an electric current while the person undergoing the procedure is under general anesthesia. This induces a small brain seizure.

TMS

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) uses a magnetic field to stimulate nerve cells. It uses a smaller electric current than ECT and does not require general anesthesia. TMS can treat major depression in people who have depression that is not responding to medication.

VNS

A third treatment option is vagus nerve stimulation (VNS). Your doctor will implant a medical device similar to a pacemaker in your chest. The wires of this device create regular electrical impulses that stimulate your brain. As with ECT and TMS, VNS can treat depression in people who have depression that hasn’t responded to other treatments.

An inability to experience pleasure and/or a reduced interest in things that used to make you happy can impact your quality of life. You don’t have to live with these feelings, and help is available.

If you’ve noticed a waning interest in things that once brought you joy, contact a doctor or a mental health professional.

The good news is, once you start treatment, you should be able to start feeling pleasure and happiness again. Typically, anhedonia dissipates once the underlying condition is managed.