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Can PTSD Cause Anhedonia, the Symptom That Causes a Loss of Pleasure?

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Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

It might happen all at once or creep up on you slowly, but suddenly, you realize you haven’t done any painting lately or weren’t interested in joining your friends for the usual round of Dungeons & Dragons. Over time, losing interest in things that made you feel good about life can lead to feeling depressed. It may also feel almost like losing part of your personality.

• What is PTSD?

If you’ve noticed you’re not as interested in things that you usually love, you’re not alone. It’s called anhedonia, and it’s a common symptom of several mental illnesses, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

What Is Anhedonia?

Anhedonia is the term for a loss of pleasure or interest in things you normally love as well as a lack of interest in exploring potential new sources of pleasure, joy or contentment. “Also included in this notion is the inability to enjoy sex and intimacy,” Thomas Franklin, MD, medical director of The Retreat at Sheppard Pratt, previously told The Mighty.

As a symptom, anhedonia often occurs alongside panic attacks, difficulty concentrating, insomnia and a higher risk for suicidal thoughts. If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts, know you’re not alone. If you need support right now, you can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. 

Is Anhedonia a Symptom of PTSD?

Anhedonia may be a hallmark symptom of depression, but it can be caused by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) too. In the context of PTSD, loss of interest is considered a mood symptom and is one sign your doctor might look out for when making a PTSD diagnosis.

Other diagnoses that may have anhedonia as a symptom include:

  • Major depressive disorder
  • Schizophrenia (and other psychotic disorders)
  • Substance use disorders


What Does Anhedonia Feel Like?

Anhedonia can make life with PTSD difficult because it’s hard to experience joy. Mighty contributor Amber Wood shared why anhedonia can be so painful:

To then be entirely bulldozed by a complete disinterest in everything I once found joy in is devastating. I find I can try for a while, try and keep everything going and fake the positive feelings that come with it. I so desperately want to genuinely feel those feelings.

Mighty contributor Alan Eisenberg explained that anhedonia can also be a lingering symptom:

The new me still deals with anhedonia a lot of the time. I have to really push myself to get up and do things I used to love to do. This is the hardest part no one told me would last. But I know I am not the only one. … I just need a good shove in the back from someone who cares. Once I am out there and doing the activity, my anhedonia lifts and then I feel totally good again. But after doing it, the anhedonia comes back.

Where to Learn More About Anhedonia

To learn more from others with PTSD who get what it’s like to experience anhedonia, check out the stories below. And if you want to share your experience with a community that cares, post a Thought on The Mighty. Here’s how.

Other Symptoms of PTSD

If you live with PTSD, you know the condition is more than just feeling anhedonia and a loss of interest in things you enjoy. Here are some other common symptoms of PTSD:

Header image via Caju Gomes on Unsplash

Originally published: November 25, 2020
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