How Self-Isolation and Loneliness Can Cause Depression

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During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, 40% of adults in the U.S. reported struggling with poor mental health and/or substance abuse. 

Most of these reports mentioned feelings of depression and anxiety. We believe that one of the biggest factors in this depression spike is social isolation due to quarantine.

Of course, the coronavirus isn’t the only reason that you may experience self-isolation. No matter the cause, isolating yourself can have seriously detrimental effects on your mental health.

Causes of Social Isolation

There are many causes of social isolation besides the Coronavirus pandemic. There are also ways that the coronavirus can continue to cause isolation, even in people who are vaccinated and living relatively normal lives.

Coronavirus Recovery

Even if you have gotten your vaccinations and returned to in-person work, you might find that you still feel more isolated than you did before the Covid-19 pandemic began.

This is because you may have spent several months to a year stuck inside your house. Even as your life returns to normal, you might find that socializing is more difficult because you are out of practice. You also may find that you've lost touch with people you used to see often, and have trouble motivating yourself to resume those relationships.

If you formed anti-social habits during quarantine, it may take some hard work to reverse them.

Work-Related Issues

Work has always been one of the biggest enemies of socialization. A poor work-life balance can contribute to feelings of depression by isolating you from friends and family.

Working hard is a great thing; to a certain extent. If you find yourself spending night after night staying late in the office and missing out on time with your loved ones, you may need to reevaluate how you spend your time.

Ward off depression and loneliness by setting aside time for your social life. Balance is key to a happy life.

Divorce and Breakups

You are more susceptible to depression after a major life change, such as a divorce or breakup. In fact, depression that results from a major life change is called "adjustment disorder," and it is the most common type of depression.

A breakup can turn your social life upside down. You may lose friends to your former partner or feel uncomfortable around your mutual acquaintances.

You also may have trouble motivating yourself to socialize after a breakup. It can be easy to stay inside your house and wallow in self-pity.

Your friends and family can be a valuable resource when you're going through a major life transition. Without their support, it can be easier to slip into depression.

Illness and Injury

Whether you have to isolate due to coronavirus exposure or stay home with a broken leg, illness and injury can isolate you.

Illness and injury can keep you from getting your usual daily dose of superficial socialization. You can't go to work, greet your neighbors, or go to your usual favorite coffee shop.

It can be difficult to take control of your social life when a medical issue is keeping you at home. However, you should always try to avoid isolation by inviting friends over to visit or talking to them on the phone.

Symptoms of Depression

Sometimes it can be difficult to tell if you have depression or not. This mood disorder can look slightly different for everyone. 

However, there are a few telltale signs of depression that you can look out for:

Low Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem and depression go hand in hand.

If you often find yourself thinking, "Nobody likes me," "I'm not good for anything," or "My family is probably disappointed in me," you may be experiencing low self-esteem due to depression.

Low self-esteem caused by depression may be very difficult to get rid of. These feelings may persist even when you're doing well in life and have no logical reason to feel disappointed in yourself.

Hopelessness

You may have depression if you find yourself thinking that things will never get better. Even when there is a clear path to improving your life, depression can make that path near impossible to see.

Hopelessness can cause you to resign yourself to an unhappy life. You may be resistant to the idea of eating better, exercising, cutting back on drinking, and any other changes that would likely improve your mood.

In extreme cases, hopelessness can lead to suicidal thoughts. If you find yourself feeling suicidal, you should always go to your nearest emergency room immediately.

The hopelessness that comes from depression isn't rational. There is always a way to improve your life.

Anhedonia

Anhedonia is a medical term that means "loss of interest in activities that one used to enjoy." It is also a telltale sign that you are experiencing depression.

Depression plays tricks on you. It can make you believe that the hobbies and passions you once enjoyed have lost their meaning.

If you suddenly don't want to listen to your favorite album, cook your favorite meal, or see your loved ones, you are probably experiencing anhedonia.

Often, the best way to combat anhedonia is to do those activities anyway. Giving into anhedonia can cause social isolation and worsen your mood.

Fatigue

If you suddenly feel tired all the time, the problem may not be physical. Depression can take as much of a toll on your body as it can on your mind.

Depression can cause you to feel fatigued even after sleeping a lot. It can also cause insomnia, which makes you feel fatigued due to lack of sleep.

Along with fatigue, depression can cause other physical symptoms. Your appetite, sex drive, and ability to focus can suffer.

These physical symptoms can be tricky to spot because they can disguise themselves as symptoms of a physical illness. If you start feeling tired all the time, ask yourself if your mood has been low recently as well.

Why Self-Isolation and Depression Are Related

So, why does self-isolation cause depression? Is there a scientific basis for this relationship? 

Let’s break down the different parts of your life that can be affected by loneliness, and how they relate to your risk of depression:

Community

Loneliness is one of the greatest causes of depression in the elderly. Once elderly people reach a certain age, they may not have any remaining friends of their age group.

They may also be living in a retirement home or assisted-care facility in which they don't know many people. This is the main reason why the elderly are at a higher risk of depression than the general population.

However, a lack of community can make anyone feel depressed. Humans are communal creatures, and we all need to feel like we belong somewhere.

Physical Touch

You may have heard of the idea that humans need 12 hugs a day to thrive. This number may not be set in stone, but there is scientific merit to this idea. Humans need physical touch to feel fulfilled.

When you isolate yourself, you may go days at a time without a hug or any other form of physical touch.

For those that live alone, this can be easy to miss out on. A lack of physical touch can make you feel unstimulated, and therefore, depressed.

Productivity

Most people tend to feel good when they know they are making a productive contribution to society. This feeling can come from work, helping friends, volunteering, and more.

Self-isolation can make you feel divorced from the greater good. When you are only acting in your own interest, your life can feel hopeless.

Lack of productivity has affected many people whose jobs were taken away during the Covid-19 pandemic. Isolation from work is lonely, not only because you don't see your coworkers, but also because they are no longer counting on you.

Interests and Hobbies

Self-isolation can cause you to miss out on the hobbies and passions you once enjoyed. If you stop going to the gym or taking your favorite art class, you lose out on both social interaction and stimulating activity.

Doing something that you love with other people is one of the greatest joys in life. If you notice yourself starting to feel isolated, start looking for group activities that you can get involved in. This is a great way to curb feelings of depression and loneliness before they become severe.

Treating Depression

Let’s talk about some of the best ways to treat depression. There is always help for your low mood.

Therapy

Talk therapy is one of the most tried-and-true ways to treat depression. There are a few different types of therapy for depression, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectic behavioral therapy (DBT).

A good relationship with a therapist can do wonders for your depression. If you are feeling socially isolated, your therapist can help you devise strategies for dealing with it.

Therapy alone may not work for everyone, but therapy is a good place to begin your depression treatment.

Medication

Another common depression treatment is medication. The most common type of antidepressant is the Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor. Most doctors will have you try SSRIs for depression first.

Less common medications for depression include SNRIs (Selective Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors), tricyclics, and mood stabilizers.

Antidepressants can be great for those who are struggling with depression. However, they don't work for everyone and can come with unpleasant side effects.

A few possible side effects of antidepressants include appetite fluctuations, sexual dysfunction, headaches, and weight loss or gain.

Unfortunately, as many as 30% of patients with major depression do not respond to antidepressant medication.

Depression that does not respond to therapy or medication is known as treatment-resistant depression.

TMS

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation is the most promising treatment for treatment-resistant depression. TMS uses a series of targeted magnetic pulses to stimulate the areas of the brain that may be inactive due to depression.

TMS is very different from electroconvulsive therapy, which administers a series of electric shocks to the brain.

Unlike ECT, TMS does not cause lasting brain fog. TMS is also totally painless. The only sensation you will feel during your TMS treatment is a dull tapping.

If you have tried and failed to treat your depression with therapy and medication, you should consider trying TMS. A consultation with a TMS provider can help you decide if this treatment is right for you.

Repairing Relationships

If you are depressed and isolated, you should consider reaching out to a trusted friend or family member that you haven't seen in a while.

Isolation can feel infinite. Once you get stuck in a pattern of loneliness, it can be hard to see the way out.

However, once you make that first plunge and reach out to someone, you may find that your mood significantly improves.

You may still need help treating your depression. However, getting out of isolation and building a better support system for yourself can make your depression treatment much easier.

Recover From Depression and Loneliness

If social isolation is making you feel down, there’s always hope. Don’t be afraid to reach out for professional help in troubled times. 

Reach out to us if you need help recovering from feelings of depression and self-isolation.

Our dedicated psychiatrists and TMS practitioners will do everything they can to help you get back on track and feel happy again.

Sources

1. Mostafavi, B. (2021, March 15). National Poll: Pandemic Negatively Impacted Teens’ Mental Health. Retrieved from https://healthblog.uofmhealth.org/childrens-health/national-poll-pandemic-negatively-impacted-teens-mental-health

2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, March 22). Data and Statistics on Children’s Mental Health. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/data.html

3. World Health Organization. (2020, September 28). Adolescent mental health. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/adolescent-mental-health

4. Harvard Health Publishing. (2019, June 24). What causes depression? Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/what-causes-depression

5. Garcia-Navarro, L. (2017, December 17). The Risk Of Teen Depression And Suicide Is Linked To Smartphone Use, Study Says. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2017/12/17/571443683/the-call-in-teens-and-depression