Being occasionally lonely is a regular part of all of our lives, and it’s never easy to deal with. No matter how many friends we have or how much money we have, we’re all susceptible to being lonely. Even when surrounded by close friends or family, we may find ourselves disconnected and feeling alone.
When we let our loneliness take over, we progress into what is known as social isolation. Social isolation is a total or near-total isolation between a person and society. Unlike loneliness, which can be involuntary, social isolation happens when a person willingly eludes contact and communication with others when the opportunity to do so arises. It can last weeks and can become a chronic condition that lasts months or years.
Social Isolation and Mental Illness
Not only is social isolation a telltale sign of depression, but it can also fuel feelings of loneliness and become problematic. It’s not uncommon for people with depression or people going through a major depressive episode to fall into this trap. We tend to back away from the public light when dealing with challenges that can lead to depression. This backing away could stem from damaged self-esteem, shame, or a fear of what others think about us.
If we do retreat to social isolation in unfortunate life circumstances and loneliness, we can start to develop and experience symptoms of depression. Traumatic experiences, relationship problems, abuse, stressful life-changing events, pain, medical conditions, mood disorders, and substance use disorders are all examples of risk factors that could invoke depression and social isolation.
All types of depressive disorders might gravitate towards isolating themselves due to feelings of guilt, shame, fatigue, hopelessness, or loss of interest in everyday activities. It’s widespread in the clinically depressed and those with persistent depressive disorder. Those going through seasonal affective disorder or a manic depression from bipolar are also seen to commonly have spells of social isolation.
The truth is that social isolation is simply bad for your health. The American Psychological Association has sited many studies which have shown social isolation to have health-related consequences:
- Impaired thought process
- Accelerated cognitive degeneration
- Worsened immune systems
- Cardiovascular and heart issues
- An increased chance at an early death
Public health researcher Kassandra Alcaraz, Ph.D., MPH, even says, “the magnitude of risk presented by social isolation is very similar in magnitude to that of obesity, smoking, lack of access to care and physical activity.”
Avoiding Social Isolation in Quarantine
Loneliness is a state of mind. And when it comes, we’ve got to battle it and remind ourselves that we are not alone. When we allow ourselves to succumb to the feeling, we risk the chance of distancing ourselves further from the people who give our lives joy and substance.
With quarantine and coronavirus (COVID-19) a reality of today’s world, many of us might not know how to handle social situations. Among washing our hands, we’ve been told to avoid social gatherings, keep a distance from others, and stay home as much as possible.
Many of us in the United States and around the world are out of work and asked to stay home from our non-essential jobs practicing self-quarantine and “social distancing”. Some of us are working from home. Some of us have been laid off. And a lot of us have lost and are losing a great deal of money.
We’re all affected. And those with mental illness must make sure to continue listening to health professionals. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has advised to plan for telehealth counseling and reach out to friends and family — even if that means doing so virtually.
What To Do About It
Even when practicing social distancing, we must avoid complete social isolation and continue to treat depression. Do not fall victim to behaviors that could prolong and intensify depression, including negativity, forgetting to exercise, substance abuse, unhealthy diets, and social isolation.
Don’t assume the worst. Especially in times like this, we theorize what might happen next and how things can go catastrophically wrong. When our minds wander from boredom and get the best of us, remember to try new things. Read a book, write a book, play a game, learn something, etc.… anything to avoid dwelling on negative thoughts or past failures.
Now is a great time to contact friends and family to start a conversation. Whether you’re the one dealing with depression or notice social withdrawal from loved ones, reach out to the people you care for. The simplest, shortest conversations can ease symptoms of depression and help one step out of their social isolation.
Meeting loved ones in-person and receiving a hug or a kiss might not be wise in the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic. But, we can use technology to get some facetime and tell others how we’re doing.
If you’re feeling sad, express your sadness. Don’t want to bother a loved one? Talk to your therapist, counselor, sponsor, or find a community online you can connect with. There are tons of resources to do so. An app like Talklife, might be a good starting point.
Don’t let social distancing, social isolation, and depression get in the way of your communication. Remember it’s a two-way street. If it’s your friend or family member socially isolating themselves, reach out. Then reach out again. And then again.
If you’re finding depression or other mental health issues are affecting your life, you may want to reach out to our professional staff here at D’Amore Healthcare.