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Isolation and Loneliness can Cause Depression – Relationships and Social Support Depression Recovery

Interacting and connecting with others is a lot more than a fun way to kill time. It’s essential for one’s well-being. After all, humans are social animals. Thus, a lack of social interaction can have a negative impact on health. [1]

On 25th March 2009, New York Times quoted, “loneliness leads to poorer physical and mental health”

Research shows that isolation/loneliness is a chronic illness that ultimately leads to depression. The epidemiology, etiology, phenomenology, diagnostic criteria, management, and adverse effects of loneliness make it a disease. [2]

Signs of Loneliness/Self Isolation

Being bad at socializing and staying within yourself can cause emotional isolation. Emotional isolation is not wanting to or not opening up and talking about your feelings with other people. 

Some common signs of loneliness include: 

  • Avoiding social gatherings and interactions (even those that gave you joy before)
  • Constantly canceling plans and feeling relieved when plans get canceled
  • Experiencing social anxiety 
  • Feeling upset and depressed during solitude 
  • Feeling dread and uncomfortable in social events or activities
  • Having very little interaction with others or spending a lot of time alone

What Are The Effects Of Chronic Loneliness?  

Loneliness is now recognized as a significant public health issue. Pain, injury/loss, sadness, fear, tiredness, and exhaustion are all symptoms of loneliness. 

Loneliness increases levels of cortisol (stress hormone) in the body. Prolonged exposure to cortisol secretion puts the body in a state of ‘fear,’ leading to a myriad of mental and physical health concerns. 

Long-term loneliness and isolation can cause the following health complications: 

  • Diseases

Chronic loneliness can cause an increase in the risk of getting different diseases such as diabetesheart disease, and high cholesterol. Besides physical problems, it can also cause mental health problems, like emotional distress, depressionanxietyfatigue, and addictions. Chronic loneliness can also lead to suicide. 

  • Sleep Disruption

Chronic loneliness can make it hard for one to fall asleep or get a long good night’s sleep, causing insomnia. Sleep deprivation can impair performance during the day, resulting in daytime sleepiness and exhaustion. 

  • Depression and Psychiatric Disorders

Lack of social interaction and loneliness can increase the chances of getting depression, or in a case, if one already has depression, loneliness makes it worse. Prolonged loneliness can also lead to many other psychiatric disorders. [3]

Besides an array of health complications, it also interferes with your day-to-day performance.  

The Link Between Loneliness And Depression? 

According to a 2013 research published in the International Journal of Humanities and Social Science Invention, lonely people suffer from more depressive symptoms because they are less satisfied, less happy, and more pessimistic. 

Individuals who are socially isolated and lack emotional engagement become emotionally unavailable. They start feeling numb, making it hard for them to cheer up and feel joyful. Thus, sooner or later, lonely/socially distant people start experiencing depressive symptoms such as: 

  • Restlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble concentrating and making decisions
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and helplessness
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or sleeping too much
  • Pessimism and hopelessness
  • Crankiness or irritability
  • Loss of interest in things once pleasurable, including sex
  • Aches, pains, headaches, or cramps that won’t go away
  • Overeating or appetite loss
  • Digestive problems 
  • Persistently feeling ‘low,’ sad, anxious, or ’empty’ 
  • Suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts

On the other hand, loneliness could also be a symptom of an underlying psychological disorder. 

According to a study, loneliness is a symptom of a psychological disorder such as depression. Research published in the International Journal of Social Psychiatry also suggests that loneliness contributes to the symptoms of depression and makes them worse. [4]

Scientific Evidence: 

  • Study 

A 2017 study investigated the link between social isolation indicators of loneliness and depressive symptoms in adults (aged 21 and above). The study concluded that young adults expiring loneliness exhibited signs of depression. [5

  • Analysis

An analysis of socially isolated young adults revealed that lonely people are often depressed due to the overlapping symptoms and gene influence of depression and loneliness. The treatment should aim at increasing social interactions. [6]

Coping With Loneliness And Depression

Here are a few expert tips on how to deal with loneliness and depression: 

  • Relationships And Social Support 

Building meaningful relationships and finding social support through friends, family, social support groups, or therapists can reduce the symptoms of loneliness and depression. 

meta-analysis of young adults with depression found that depressed people feel immensely lonely and distant from others. They don’t disclose their isolated feeling and the debilitating nature of depressive symptomatology. The study further suggested that young people should be encouraged to communicate about their depression with trusted friends. Moreover, their social networks should be educated on how to support them. [7]

  • Social Media Detox 

Statistics show that loneliness is increasing, particularly in younger generations. According to a survey, 25% of millennials don’t have close friends, while 22% have no friends at all (Source: Inc.). [8]

Today’s over-scheduled, social media-driven, and machine-dominated lifestyles is mostly to blame. [9] People need to have authentic experiences and interactions out in the open world. 

Research suggests that going on a social media cleanse encourages social interactions and can reduce signs of depression. [10]

  • Find The Cause 

To combat loneliness effectively, you have to find the underlying causes. Some of the most common causes include toxic relationships, an unhealthy family environment, overexposure to social media, and feelings of insecurity. 

Pew Research Centre survey found that most people link loneliness to dissatisfaction in family life – 28% of those dissatisfied with their family life feel lonely all or most of the time.

  • Avoid Lonely People

According to research in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, lonesomeness is contagious. You are 52% more likely to feel lonely if you surround yourself with lonely people. 

  • Seek Therapy 

The most effective way to prevent and treat loneliness and chronic depression is by seeking professional help. If you experience symptoms of depression and can’t stop feeling lonely and isolated, talk to a mental health professional. 

When to Seek Professional Help?

  • Overthinking and feeling confused all the time
  • Having delusions or hallucinations
  • Feeling agitated, angry, and frustrated
  • Being anxious and fearful 
  • Extreme mood swings and frequent emotional meltdowns
  • Unable to cope day to day problems
  • Significant changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Numerous unexplained physical ailments
  • Prolonged depressive symptoms
  • Social withdrawal
  • Substance abuse

 Consult a therapist if you have been experiencing one or more of these symptoms.

References

  1. Loneliness and Social Isolation Linked to Serious Health Conditions: https://www.cdc.gov/aging/publications/features/lonely-older-adults.html
  2. Loneliness: A disease?: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3890922/
  3. Relationship Between Loneliness, Psychiatric Disorders and Physical Health? A Review on the Psychological Aspects of Loneliness by Raheel Mushtaq, Sheikh Shoib, Tabindah Shah and Sahil Mushtaq. 2014. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4225959/
  4. The effect of loneliness on depression: A meta-analysis by Erzen E, Çikrikci Ö. 2018. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29792097/
  5. Social isolation, loneliness and their relationships with depressive symptoms: A population-based study by Lixia Ge. 2017. Retrieved from: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0182145
  6. Social isolation, loneliness and depression in young adulthood: a behavioural genetic analysis byTimothy Matthews, Andrea Danese, Jasmin Wertz, Candice L. Odgers, Antony Ambler, Terrie E. Moffitt, and Louise Arseneault. 2016. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4819590/
  7. The experience of loneliness among young people with depression: a qualitative meta-synthesis of the literature by Louis Achterbergh, Alexandra Pitman, Mary Birken, Eiluned Pearce, Herman Sno & Sonia Johnson. Retrieved from: https://bmcpsychiatry.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12888-020-02818-3
  8. Millennials are the loneliest generation by Ballard J. 2019. Retrieved from: https://today.yougov.com/topics/lifestyle/articles-reports/2019/07/30/loneliness-friendship-new-friends-poll-survey
  9. Using Social Media Leads To Depression: https://www.lifeskillssouthflorida.com/mental-health-blog/can-using-social-media-lead-to-depression/
  10. Fear of Missing Out, Mental Wellbeing, and Social Connectedness: A Seven-Day Social Media Abstinence Trial by Lorna Brown and Daria J. Kuss. 2020. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7345987/
  11. Dealing With Depression and Loneliness: https://www.everydayhealth.com/hs/major-depression/depression-feeling-lonely/
  12. Loneliness and Depression: What’s the Connection? https://www.healthline.com/health/loneliness-and-depression
  13. Loneliness: Causes and Health Consequences: https://www.verywellmind.com/loneliness-causes-effects-and-treatments-2795749
  14. The risks of social isolation: https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/05/ce-corner-isolation
  15. Understanding The Effects of Isolation and Loneliness on Health: https://publichealth.tulane.edu/blog/effects-of-social-isolation-on-mental-health/

 

 

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