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5 Ways to Deal with a Feeling of Guilt from Depression

Depression and guilt
Written by:

Rabia Khaliq

MSc in Applied Psychology


Feeling embarrassed or regretful for an action with adverse effects is often appropriate and logical, as it helps to realign with personal values. But such feelings can be damaging when they are excessive and unjustifiable, resulting from the perception of personal failure. Such is the guilt that occurs in psychological disorders, including depression and anxiety.

Although it’s rarely discussed, depression and guilt often co-exist. In fact, excessive or inappropriate guilt is recognized as one of the fundamental symptoms [1*] of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). A depressed individual might experience thoughts of self-blame and shame even if the actual happenings are contrary to the perceived state. But regardless of the severity, these feelings of guilt in depression are treatable.

Feeling down for a long time can become your new normal — don’t let it happen! Professional help is available online.

Is Guilt a Sign of Depression?

Self-blaming emotions often occur in depression. The American Psychiatric Association even recognizes excessive guilt and feelings of worthlessness as part of the criteria for diagnosing the major depressive disorder as outlined in the DSM-5. According to research [2*] , individuals with depression have reduced activity in areas of the brain associated with behavioral planning, making them more vulnerable to guilt and shame.

What Causes Guilt in Depression?

Generally, perceived failures and mistakes are the primary guilt triggers in depressed individuals. You could feel guilty for major and minor issues alike. For instance, you might feel disproportionately guilty for failing to respond to a friend’s message on time or for events that occurred several years ago.

Sometimes, depression and guilt leave you confused and second-guessing whatever you are going through. When the depressive symptoms linger for quite an extended period, you might blame yourself for not doing enough to treat the disorder or consider yourself being responsible for your state. You might feel you’re only pretending and have no right to be depressed or compare yourself with others who have it worse, exacerbating the feeling of guilt. As depression precipitates other symptoms leading to social withdrawal, you are likely to blame yourself and feel guilty for not making your relationships work.

However, it is crucial to understand that depression is not a choice and can affect anyone. In fact, the WHO estimates [3*] that nearly 5 percent of adults suffer from depression globally. For many of these individuals with depression, the level of guilt is disparate from the gravity of real-life events.

Again comparing yourself with others can bring guilt, especially when they seem to be doing better. While two people might be battling depression, their experiences are very different. Therefore, looking at the progress of others and judging or seeing yourself as a failure is inappropriate.

Depression disrupts [4*] concentration and impairs social, cognitive, and mental functioning. Consequently, performance at school or work declines. This can also cause guilt in people with depression. Regardless of the cause, remember that guilt in depression is not your fault, and you can overcome it.

Can Guilt Cause Depression?

Thoughts create emotions that determine the actions a person takes. When the cycle begins with negative thoughts, the result is sadness or low mood. Breaking the cycle and finding a solution that works for you is essential in dealing with depression and guilt. A psychotherapist can help you develop strategies for coping and dealing with guilt from depression.

Depression comes with various symptoms, but all of them interfere with daily life. Get online help for depression from an expert at MEDvidi.

How to Stop Feeling Guilty When Depressed

Guilt in depression can be a stubborn symptom that manipulates your thoughts and emotions. But you can minimize and overcome feelings of guilt in depression by:

1. Practicing self-kindness

Self-blame and doubt over one’s abilities often predominate the thoughts of depressed individuals. But you can counter these negative thoughts by practicing self-kindness [5*] through positive self-talk and gratitude. Self-kindness can take different shapes, including drinking a glass of water regularly or going for a walk.

2. Journaling your feelings

Do you ever wonder why you feel guilty about being depressed? While you might not explain why you feel guilty and seem trapped in a complex web, journaling will help release the tension. It helps you to understand and reframe your thoughts and emotions. So when journaling your feelings, consider answering questions like “What’s causing my guilt?” and “What if the reverse were true?”

3. Meditation [6*]

When depressed, thoughts tend to spiral downward, and it might not be possible to journal everything. Having a meaningful pause when these shameful or guilty thoughts begin can help reduce these depressive symptoms. Practicing breathing exercises or guilt-specific meditation [7*] is a simple press-pausing technique.

4. Talk therapy

Unlike the impression guilt gives you, you’re not alone and must not battle depression in isolation. When having persistent thoughts and feelings of guilt, consider talking to someone, either a friend or a mental health professional. Talking can give you another perspective and help you find a suitable solution.

5. Exercising

Physical activity [8*] enhances recovery by promoting the release of feel-good chemicals known as endorphins while reducing stress hormone levels. Consider going for a walk, practicing yoga, or riding a bike to help you think more clearly and subdue your emotions.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to treating depression. We will develop an individualized treatment plan for you at MEDvidi.

How to stop feeling guilty

In Summary

Guilt is a common symptom of depression. However, the guilt is always disproportionate to the actual situations and can inhibit recovery in depressed individuals. When you experience persistent, extreme guilt, visit a certified mental health professional for more coping methods besides exercise, practicing self-kindness, and journaling.


8 sources
  1. Core symptoms of major depressive disorder: relevance to diagnosis and treatment. (2008)
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  2. The Role of Self-Blaming Moral Emotions in Major Depression and Their Impact on Social-Economical Decision Making. (2013)
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  3. Depressive disorder (depression). (2023)
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  4. Cognition and Depression: Current Status and Future Directions. (2010)
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  5. An examination of self-compassion in relation to positive psychological functioning and personality traits. (2007)
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  6. How Does Mindfulness Meditation Work? Proposing Mechanisms of Action From a Conceptual and Neural Perspective. (2011)
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  7. How Does Mindfulness Meditation Work? Proposing Mechanisms of Action From a Conceptual and Neural Perspective. (2022)
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  8. The Benefits of Exercise for the Clinically Depressed. (2004)
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Written by:

Rabia Khaliq

MSc in Applied Psychology


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Evidence Based

This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts and fact checked by experts.

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This article contains scientific references. The numbers
in the parentheses (1, 2, 3) are clickable links to peer-reviewed scientific papers.