Why Being Alone with Depression Makes it Tougher

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Reader’s Question

I’m turning 22 in a few days. I have been depressed for almost four months now. I tried to kill myself once. If it weren’t because of my housemates, I could’ve been dead by now. My family doesn’t know I tried to kill myself. They have no clue that I have been depressed for months. What can I do? We’re not exactly the kind of family that shares everything. We’re not the kind of family that tries to comfort the other when he or she needs it. We’re more like strangers living under the same roof. I’m the total opposite of what I was before. I was the life of the party but now I’m mostly by myself. I’ll just hide in my room and do my own thing. They say I don’t talk much now. The internet is kind of my world now. Online, people may see me as this lively, happy and talkative person. But deep inside I feel empty and worthless, like I have no purpose and all. Nobody really knows me, not even my own family. I am so lost. I hope I can find help.

Psychologist’s Reply

One of the most serious effects of depression is the sense of being alone and isolated with the way you feel. From your description alone, it seems like you feel disconnected and like no one else truly understands. In working with my depressed clients, I can tell you this is very common. Many of them talk about the isolation that accompanies depression, feeling like they put on a good face to cover it up, and that if they told others about how they feel they would be judged or misunderstood. In my experience, being isolated with the way you feel just seems to intensify depression.

People isolate with their depression for many reasons. Like you, they may feel like they don’t have a supportive family or feel closer to their friends instead. Depression seems to take away our motivation to be social if we feel like we have to “fake it” around everyone else. Not having enough social support, having few friends or family can increase the risk of depression for both men and women, especially for example in women who are at home alone with young children and in those who describe themselves as isolated. Having fewer social networks and close connections are variables often associated with the onset of depression. Recent research has also identified college students with minimal social support as being at high risk for suicidal thoughts. Overall, a lack of social support — described as feeling unappreciated, unloved and uninvolved with family and friends — emerged as one of the most powerful predictors of persistent suicidal thoughts, even in the absence of other risk factors.

We need to think about depression as a captor. Depression does a great job at convincing you that you are alone, like no one misses you or that you are the only one who feels this bad. It makes you believe that no one would understand or that others would judge you if you spoke up. Listening to this we can find ourselves in both physical and emotional isolation. It is important to understand that social support is an extremely important part of recovery from depression. People are meant to be social and together. Thousands of years ago we all huddled around fires in caves and stayed in groups for protection and support. Over the generations, this need to be a part of the larger group has actually become ingrained in our DNA. I personally believe that we were not meant to handle everything on our own and that seeking connection and support is actually a strong survival skill and not a sign of weakness as commonly thought. Social connection can even help you find solutions and resources you didn’t even know were out there.

Therapy and support groups can provide us with something very critical to recovery — a sense of “universality.” Universality is the sense that you are not alone, that others understand and have felt similarly to the way you have even though their stories may be different from your own. Simply having this sense of universality has been found to be one of the most productive and healing factors in coping with depression. Research has shown too that isolation can affect an enzyme in our brain that regulates a hormone related to anxiety, aggression and memory impairment. So you see, we are literally made to be around others and connected during times of difficulty.

Disorders like depression can steal our desire to connect and often pull us to suffer alone. It can be difficult to fight this inclination to be alone when hurt and depressed. However, doing so is critical to recovery and feeling better. Many of my clients who manage to do so relate that although they did not want to socialize, once they did they felt some relief. If regular social situations like eating and movies are too much, consider interventions like individual therapy and a depression support group. Given time, these connections with others can be valuable. Connecting with the right social support is just as important as connecting itself. Peers who are supportive and accepting are obviously going to be the way to go. Research has shown that others tend to be somewhat more supportive and helpful than what depressed people give them credit for. Our initial perceptions of others’ reactions when we are depressed tends to more negative than what they should be.

Many are finding online support as well. Numerous online support groups (preferably ones monitored by mental health professionals) can be of help. New studies are even suggesting that adolescents and younger adults are more likely to text a suicide crisis line than talk to someone on the phone.

The bottom line for anyone in this or a similar situation is this: being alone with the way you feel sucks. Even though you may not have solutions to everything you are facing, you don’t have to face it alone. You weren’t built for it. You just need to push yourself to begin to build that connection. The relationships you make and support you build might just even outlast what difficulties you are going through.

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