Depression or Just Low Self-Esteem?

by Mike Veny Patient Advocate

It seemed like the perfect morning. The weather was beautiful as I walked home from the gym. I had just completed an intense workout and felt amazing. As the endorphins rushed through me, I walked with a feeling of confidence.

One of the tools that I have learned to use in my recovery is checking in with myself to see how I am feeling. I make it a point to do this throughout the day. As I checked in with myself during my walk home, I noticed something very strange.

On one hand, I was feeling uplifted, motivated, and excited for the day ahead. At the same time, I felt profound sadness. Like the undertow of a river’s current, the feeling was buried so deep in me that I almost didn’t notice it.

As I continued walking, I realized that going to therapy has been paying off. Through my sessions with my therapist, I am learning better coping strategies to get through life. One of the strategies that I am learning to embrace is accepting that conflicting thoughts and feelings can coexist.

It was at that moment that I realized that I have high self-esteem, even as I simultaneously battle depression. This realization felt very liberating for me.

As I began to explore more, I learned that there is a difference between low self-esteem and depression. Although there are some similarities, they aren't the same thing. Both, however, can coexist.

Understanding that conflicting thoughts and feelings can coexist is crucial to recovery.

Low Self-Esteem

“Low self-esteem is characterized by beliefs of oneself as inadequate, incompetent, unworthy, and unlovable. It comes from the way we interpret others’ dysfunctional behaviors toward us and is the result of situations that involve abandonment, continued criticism, neglect, and abuse.

Hallmarks of low self-esteem are confusion regarding who to trust, low self-confidence, unhelpful self-talk, self-criticism, rigid thinking style, self-invalidation, and vulnerability to perfectionism, addictive behaviors, and depression,” according to Elizabeth Fessenden, M.A., LMHC, Director of Dialectical Behavior Therapy Services at The Bridge of Central Massachusetts, Inc.


Fessenden also says that: “Depression is a common but serious mood disorder that includes feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and emptiness. Depression looks different for everyone but is commonly associated with changes in appetite, sleep, energy level, and concentration. Depression causes significant distress and can impact all areas of one’s life. Those with severe depression may even contemplate death and suicide.”

Figuring it out

First, it’s important to seek the help of a licensed mental health professional. Next, here are some steps from my lived experience that I would suggest:

  1. Check in with yourself and see how you are feeling. Ask yourself how you are feeling and listen for an answer. It's that simple.

  2. Learn more about self-esteem and depression. (see the resources below).

  3. Do your best to identify which one is causing you the most trouble. You may feel overwhelmed and confused. It’s all a part of the process.

  4. Develop a plan to work on it. Do one small thing each day to improve.

  5. Be persistent. You will experience setbacks and frustration. Keep moving forward no matter what.

As you begin to work on one of these areas, you will also help the other. As you see improvements, it’s important that you find ways to work on both. For myself, I work on my self-esteem through self-talk, exercise, and keeping commitments to myself. At the same time, my depression gets better as I continue to go to therapy and attend support groups. Even though they are two different things, they have an effect on each other.

“While low self-esteem and depression are not the same, they are very much related and affect one another. The thought process involved with both includes themes of worthlessness, guilt, and self-judgment. Those with low self-esteem are much more likely to struggle with symptoms of depression. Additionally, depression can also lead to feelings of insecurity, self-hate, and lack of self-confidence,”says Fessenden.

“Low self-esteem can be a life-long struggle. However, depression is typically associated with impairment in social, occupational, relational, or other critical areas of life. If you are unable to function in a particular area of life due to your level of distress, it may be time to consult a mental health provider to gain a better understanding of what is happening and get support in navigating this challenging time in life.”

“When solving problems, dig at the roots instead of just hacking at the leaves.”

Anthony J. D'Angelo

What’s the next step that you will take?

Mike Veny is one of America’s leading mental health awareness speakers, HealthCentral’s newest social ambassador, and a high energy corporate drumming event facilitator. He delivers educational, engaging, and entertaining presentations to meetings and conferences throughout the world. Learn more and connect with Mike at

Mike Veny
Meet Our Writer
Mike Veny

Mental health speaker and best-selling author Mike Veny delivers engaging presentations with raw energy and a fresh perspective on diversity and inclusion. He shares how he went from struggling with mental health challenges to being a thought leader that travels the globe telling his story to help transform stigma. He is a highly sought-after keynote speaker, corporate drumming event facilitator, author, and luggage enthusiast. Seriously, you’d completely get it if you did all the traveling he did! Mike is the author of the book Transforming Stigma: How to Become a Mental Wellness Superhero. As a 2017 PM360 ELITE Award Winner, he is recognized as one of the 100 most influential people in the healthcare industry for his work as a patient advocate.