Depressed teen dealing with brain fog

Yes, Brain Fog Is a Depression Symptom—Here’s How to Cope

Updated: March 1, 2024

4 min.

If depression is making you feel fuzzy or foggy, you’re not alone. More on the link between depression and brain fog, plus tips for managing depression-induced brain fog, below.

By: Alex Bachert, MPH

Clinically Reviewed By: Dr. Don Gasparini

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Table of Contents

Depression is known to cause sad moods, low self-esteem, anxiety, and sleep issues, but another lesser-discussed symptom of depression is brain fog—the fuzzy or spacey feeling that can make it difficult to think clearly. Although it isn’t an official medical diagnosis, brain fog can cause a wide range of cognitive symptoms like difficulty concentrating, a lack of mental clarity, and mental fatigue. It can happen when you are over-tired, jet-lagged, or starting a new medication, but persistent brain fog may be a sign of something bigger, like depression.

While not everyone with a depressive disorder will experience brain fog, some research suggests that as many as 94% of people with major depressive disorder experience cognitive symptoms during depressive episodes. Below, we delve into the connection between depressive disorders and brain fog and explore ways to help clear your mind. 

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What’s the link between depression and brain fog? 

There are many known causes of brain fog—ranging from stress to medical conditions like chronic fatigue syndrome and multiple sclerosis—and depression is one of them. The exact cause linking depression and brain fog is still the subject of research, but some hypotheses include co-occurring depression symptoms, brain changes, and medication side effects. Keep reading to learn more about the link between depression and persistent brain fog.

Co-occurring depression symptoms

Some studies show that a major depressive episode can reduce cognitive functions, including our working memory, long-term memory, and ability to focus. When we’re forgetful or having trouble making decisions, we’re more likely to suffer from that feeling of brain fog. Also, other symptoms of depression, such as fatigue, sleep disturbances, and substance abuse (in some instances), can exacerbate the feeling of mental cloudiness, contributing to brain fog. 

Neural network changes

Another theory as to why depression and brain fog are linked is that depression can affect the neural networks in critical areas of the brain, research shows. For instance, depression can impact the hippocampus, which supports memory recall, the amygdala, which supports decision-making, and the basal ganglia, which promotes working memory performance. Changes in all of these parts of the brain due to depression may contribute to brain fog. 


Lastly, another cause of depression-related brain fog may be the medication used to treat depression (or another mental health condition). It may sound counterintuitive, but certain medications that are designed to combat cognitive issues related to depression can make the symptoms of brain fog worse. For example, specific selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and benzodiazepines can exacerbate these symptoms, research shows.

Treating depression-induced brain fog

Living with mental fatigue can be incredibly frustrating. It can impact your friendships, academic performance, and—importantly—your ability to prioritize your mental health. There are currently no treatments specifically for brain fog, but there are ways to manage depression and other mental health conditions causing cognitive dysfunction. 

Therapy and supported groups

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) are two types of talk therapy used to help people with depression cope with their symptoms and gain a healthy perspective on their condition. Both CBT and DBT focus on symptom management and incorporate techniques like cognitive restructuring tools and mindfulness that can help people cope with depression symptoms like brain fog. 

Peer support groups are another resource for people with depression and brain fog. These groups offer a safe place for people with depression to share experiences and coping strategies, reducing isolation and helping them feel empowered in managing their condition and symptoms. 

Healthy habits

In addition to psychotherapy, various lifestyle tweaks can help improve cognitive functioning. Getting enough sleep, following a balanced diet, and drinking plenty of water is essential. Meditation and exercise are great ways to help lower stress, but it’s best to avoid drugs and alcohol, which can impair your senses.


Research shows that specific organizational skills and memory tricks can help to ​​reduce brain fog and cognitive dysfunction. Here are some examples: 

Organizational skills

  • Break large tasks into small, more manageable ones to help avoid burnout 
  • Keep your items (wallet, keys, phone) in one place to avoid misplacing them
  • Create reminders for yourself—whether it’s on your phone, in a planner, or by leaving notes around the house
  • Avoid multitasking, which can make it difficult to concentrate and reduce productivity 

Memory skills

  • Read more, even if it’s just a few pages per day
  • Try puzzles, crosswords, and other matching games to help sharpen your memory
  • Find new ways to stimulate your brain, such as taking a different route to school or listening to new music
  • Leverage rhymes, visual or verbal cues, and repetition to help reduce feelings of forgetfulness or mental blocks


Antidepressants are prescription medications used to treat depression. There are currently several categories of antidepressants, including SSRIs serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). Some research suggests that SNRIs are more effective than SSRIs for combating brain fog, but it's best to consult your doctor to find the proper medication for your needs.

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How Charlie Health can help with depression and brain fog

If you or a loved one are struggling with depression and brain fog, Charlie Health is here to help. Charlie Health’s virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) provides more than once-weekly mental health treatment for young people and families dealing with complex mental health conditions. Our expert clinicians incorporate evidence-based therapies into individual counseling, family therapy, and group sessions. With this kind of holistic online therapy, managing depression is possible. Fill out the form below or give us a call to start healing today.

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