Depression and low self-esteem are not the same thing. However, the two conditions have been shown to share a relationship with each other.
We all have times in which we lack confidence and underperform to our expectations. Similarly, we all have days in which we are sad. However, when these issues become long-term problems, we can see them having harmful effects on our mental health.
Let’s take a look at how correlated these conditions are and what we can do to improve our self-esteem and symptoms of depression.
Both depression and self-esteem range on a scale from high to low.
An Overview of Self-Esteem
Self-esteem, simply put, is the opinion you have of yourself. This includes all of the known positive and negative characteristics you have labeled yourself with.
It is not exactly synonymous with confidence, as someone with low self-esteem may have high confidence in certain aspects of their life and low confidence in other aspects of their life.
Warning signs of self-esteem problems include:
- Avoiding previously enjoyable activities
- Avoiding new activities and opportunities
- Blaming others for circumstances they are left to
- Comparing yourself to others
- Fear of embarrassment in certain situations
- Feeling unwanted and unworthy
- Struggles to take a compliment
- Struggles in finding new friends
- Struggles in keeping old friends
- Struggles in motivation
- Talking negatively about yourself
When we have positive self-esteem, we are naturally happier and healthier beings. We are more optimistic about our own ability to control our future and take on certain challenges life throws at us.
When we have negative self-esteem, we naturally become less optimistic about ourselves and our future. We then become less optimistic about our ability to control our future and handle the struggles of certain daily life activities.
An Overview of Depression
Depression is more than just the emotion of feeling sadness from time to time. Depression is a chronic illness that can have debilitating effects on those who struggle with it.
Depression can cause fatigue, affecting your ability to accomplish daily activities at work, eat a proper diet, exercise effectively, sleep efficiently, among other things.
However, no one experiences depression exactly the same way. And we have categorized depressive disorders accordingly into subtypes like major depression, persistent depressive disorder, psychotic depression, postpartum depression, and seasonal affective disorder.
We have effective treatments for depression, including medications and psychotherapy — and secondary treatments such as TMS. But ultimately, addressing self-esteem is critical in successfully treating depression.
The Connection Between Low Self-Esteem and Depression
Low self-esteem and depression share many characteristics, including:
- Reduction in productivity or quality of work
- Irritability and sometimes aggressive behaviors
- Interpersonal relationship issues
- Reckless and risky behaviors (i.e. promiscuity, substance abuse, etc.)
- Over self-consciousness
- Isolation and social withdrawal
Despite the similarities, depression and low self-esteem are two different concepts. Though, self-esteem issues seem to be a large risk factor for depression, especially in youth.
As adolescents, we may try to compensate for low self-esteem by doing things we otherwise wouldn’t to be accepted by others. Others may completely detach themselves from others in fear of looking silly and inadequate, losing interest in things that would otherwise be enjoyable.
Unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with self-esteem problems can often lead to further depression and potentially lowered self-esteem. Short-term fixes, such as isolation, can make us feel safe temporarily. Long-term, these “fixes” have negative consequences, reinforcing negative thoughts and re-engaging in unhealthy behaviors.
How to Boost Self-Esteem
Boosting self-esteem takes a serious inward look into how you think and talk about yourself:
- Identify negative self-talk and beliefs — pay attention to and catch yourself when you have a negative thought of yourself
- Confront negative self-talk and beliefs — stop repeating these negative thoughts, and remind yourself that they are not true and we all have our faults.
- Think about and focus on your positive traits — think about all the things you are good at, remind yourself about the positive things in your life, and be grateful for them.
- Believe in the good things people say about you — learn to take a compliment, say thank you, and remind yourself of the good things people have said about you in the past.
- Accept the things you cannot change — come to terms with your faults, and be forgiving of yourself for having them. No one is perfect.
- Change the things you can — do what you can to address things that can be fixed and healthily push yourself in ways that will benefit you long-term.
Some other suggestions and coping strategies for negative self-talk include:
- Stop comparing yourself to others — You will only ever be you. We are all different and have our own positive traits to focus on. Don’t dwell on comparing one aspect of yourself to others.
- Write down positive thoughts — Journal your own positive thoughts and keep track of the positive things people say about you. Dwell on the good, not the bad.
- Stop living in the past — Concentrate on now. Dwelling on previous negative situations or even comparing your current self to your previous self can do harm to your mental health.
- Tell yourself something positive everyday — start your day with gratitude and think about a positive message to tell yourself. Perhaps use an app for daily confirmations and motivating quotes.
- Stop worrying about what might happen — just do what you can, in the best way you know how, to move forward through life and tackle responsibilities.
- Don’t give up — in the face of failure. Learn from your mistakes and move forward with the things you have learned along the way. Life is a constant game of learning and improvement.
- Exercise — boost endorphins that naturally make you happier in your own skin and boost feel-good thoughts.
- Have fun — do things that put a smile on your face and enjoy the chaotic ride of life. Pursue things you are passionate about.
- Communicate — your feelings, beliefs, opinions, needs and wants to others in a calm and honest way so that they know how you feel. Disregard and separate yourself from people who don’t take you seriously or care about your mental well-being.
Treating and Preventing Low-Self Esteem and Depression
Low self-esteem and depression are treatable conditions. The tips above may provide the right guidance and tools to get better, but many of us may need an actual person to talk through these issues.
There is absolutely no shame in talking to a therapist and getting an outside look at your life’s issues. We often have a much easier time talking through our issues with someone else there, rather than repeating them in our heads by ourselves.
A therapist can provide a safe environment to talk about things you may be uncomfortable talking about otherwise to a friend or family member. If necessary, a psychiatrist can provide temporary medicinal treatments that can get you started on a happier life.
If standard treatments don’t provide the help you need. Do not give up.
Secondary treatments can be effective when talk therapy and medications are not. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is one of the safest and most effective ways to address treatment-resistant depression.
- Sowislo JF, Orth U. Does low self-esteem predict depression and anxiety? A meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Psychol Bull. 2013 Jan;139(1):213-240. doi: 10.1037/a0028931. Epub 2012 Jun 25. PMID: 22730921.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2016, July 12). Why Self-Esteem Is Important for Mental Health. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/July-2016/Why-Self-Esteem-Is-Important-for-Mental-Health
- Whitbourne, S. K., Ph.D. (2013, February 26). Is Low Self-Esteem Making You Vulnerable to Depression? Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201302/is-low-self-esteem-making-you-vulnerable-depression
- Orth U, Robins RW. Understanding the Link Between Low Self-Esteem and Depression. Current Directions in Psychological Science. 2013;22(6):455-460. doi:10.1177/0963721413492763