When Depression Is A Factor In Your Loneliness And Social Problems
Some people who are lonely, shy, or socially awkward also feel depressed. This article will give a brief overview of depression, and then focus on how it affects socializing. Of course, this is a big topic, so it won't cover everything. If you have more severe depression you'll likely need to see a doctor or a therapist to get additional support.
Causes of depression
Some depression truly seems to come out of nowhere. Someone with it honestly can't come up with a reason they may feel that way. These cases can have a biological or genetic cause. The root of the issue may also be unconscious.
More often depression develops in response to legitimate problems in a person's life. If someone has real issues they're struggling with it's only reasonable they might become sad and hopeless in the face of them. Also, if someone's going through a naturally stressful transition (e.g., moving cities, starting college, ending a relationship) they may become down temporarily and then start to feel better as they adjust to their new circumstances.
The relationship of depression with social problems
When someone is depressed, and they're also struggling socially, there are a few basic background stories they can have:
- Some people's depression seems to be a direct result of their social problems. They were fine before, but have become dejected and pessimistic due to being isolated, rejected, or too scared to try to connect with others.
- Other people become depressed for another reason, but once it sets in the symptoms start sabotaging their social life. Their social skills could have been behind to begin with, and now are really shaky. There are also people who report being confident and outgoing in the past, but they lost it all once their mood took a turn for the worse.
- You'll also get situations that are a mix of the above two points, where someone was having social issues, and also dealing with other difficult life events, and the problems fed into each other.
Either way, once depression has taken hold it causes a range of problems that get in the way of someone getting past it. The symptoms also interfere with peoples' ability to work on their social weak points. A downward spiral can start, where becoming depressed makes someone's circumstances harder, which leads to them feeling even more down, and so on.
Symptoms of depression
There are lots of variations to depression in terms of severity, mix of symptoms, duration, and problems that can occur alongside it. If I started quoting the official criteria for all of them it would make this article pretty unwieldy. Instead I'll give a brief overview of depression's common effects.
One thing about depression is you can't really know what it's like unless you've had it. Most of the symptoms seem to be things we've all been through here and there, so it's easy to read them and think you know what they mean, but they have their own flavor when they're part of true depression. For example, "loss of motivation" isn't like that time you didn't feel too keen about your part-time job. It can be this deep in your bones sense that everything is pointless, and that even walking to the kitchen to make some toast for breakfast would be a huge struggle.
- A depressed, sad mood, naturally... Although that's not always the case. Sometimes a depressed person feels more irritable, grumpy, or emotionally flat and empty, rather than down in the dumps
- A loss of interest in things you used to enjoy. A feeling that you don't get pleasure from them anymore
- Reduced ability to think, concentrate, and make decisions. Feeling like your mind is foggy or gummed up
- A lack of motivation or initiative
- Low self-esteem and a sense that you have a ton of flaws
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Feelings of guilt, dwelling on all the mistakes you've made in your life
- A tendency to ruminate, that is to continually, repetitively think about your problems and sadness, in a way that isn't helpful. Sometimes you can feel like you're figuring things out, and that an epiphany is just around the corner, but you're really just going over the same material again and again, and soaking in all the unpleasant emotions it brings up
- A tendency to be negative (e.g., you've seen a lot of movies lately, but think they were all meh at best)
- A pessimistic outlook on life
- A sense that your particular situation is hopeless and isn't going to get better
- Thoughts or death or suicide. This doesn't necessarily mean you truly want to kill yourself. You may have thoughts of death, but be frightened at how morbid your thinking is getting, and exhaust yourself fighting it off
In general depressed people view the world through a "dark-tinted filter". Their thoughts display many cognitive distortions that help maintain their gloomy outlook.
- No longer taking part in activities you used to like
- Generally not getting up to much, staying home a lot
- Becoming more passive and withdrawn
- Using coping behaviors, like playing video games all day to distract yourself from how awful you feel
- Lack of energy/feelings of fatigue/getting drained really easily
- Behavior seeming slowed down or kind of agitated overall
- Weight loss due to a lack of appetite and interest in eating, or weight gain from increased appetite and eating for comfort/boredom-related reasons
- Sleep problems: Difficulty falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, waking up too early, or sleeping too much.
Basically the more of these symptoms you have, the more severe they are, the more they interfere with your life, and the longer you've had them for, the worse your depression. The physical symptoms also tend to be more prominent when someone's depression is stronger. Someone who's mildly depressed may be able to go on with their lives, but just feel down. A more severely depressed individual may sleep twelve hours a day, and lay on their couch in a daze when they're awake.
Depression can come in episodes. Someone might be depressed for six months, come out of it, then fall into another funk a year later. It's also possible to have a kind of chronic low-grade depression called Dysthymic Disorder (people who've had it for a very long time may mistakenly think it's just their personality, and can be shocked with how different the world seems after they've been treated). Depression is also a feature of Bipolar Disorder. In that case someone cycles between episodes of depression and mania, an extreme elevated mood.
Anxiety and depression often come as a package. This may be because a common underlying problem brings about both moods. In some cases someone may become depressed because of the difficulties their anxiety is causing them. Or they could develop anxiety in response to the effect their depression is having on their lives.
The social impact of depression
I listed the symptoms of depression above. Obviously feeling sad, hopeless, and worthless are big problems on their own, and should be treated just for that reason. I also want to talk about how the features of depression can impact someone's social success and their ability and motivation to address those challenges. The issues below all tend to reinforce and play off each other:
- Depression makes people feel pessimistic and hopeless about the prospect of them changing their social situation for the better, and so they're less likely to even try.
- Depression lowers self-esteem and self-confidence. People with it feel worthless, unlikable, and ashamed. That's another factor that makes them not want to get out there.
- People with depression sometimes aren't as enjoyable to be around. They can be flat, gloomy, grumpy, negative, and self-focused. A common scenario is for someone to become depressed, and at first their friends and family are supportive and there for them. But over a period of months, even though they don't want to be this way, they slowly feel worn down by the depressed person's mood and start to pull away. (I'll note though that some people with depression put on a warm, cheerful facade to hide their condition or try to make themselves and everyone feel better.)
- People with depression can come across as flaky and unreliable. They may cancel plans at the last second because the concept of going out feels impossible that day (they'll often give a half-baked excuse as well, as not everyone is receptive to hearing "The reason I'm cancelling is because my depression is acting up today"). They may be late because getting ready feels so much harder. If they're having a bad spell, they may drop off the map for a week and not return any of their friends' messages.
- Socializing is less inherently rewarding for depressed people, since they lose interest in their hobbies and get less joy out of things. This is one more factor that hinders them from actively working on their social problems.
- Since people with depression tend to view the world through a negative filter, they're more likely to interpret social situations for the worse. Like if they have a stilted conversation with someone they'll conclude it's because they're useless and boring to everyone they meet and that they'll never get better.
- A depressed person's negativity may impact their attitude about other people. They may generally be down on everyone and feel little drive to connect with them.
- Someone who's depressed may have a lot less energy to devote to socializing.
- If a depressed person gains a lot of weight due to their condition, that may further damage their self-esteem and desire to socialize. Since other people can be jerks, they may also be rejected more often because of it.
- Similarly, someone who's depressed may not attend to their grooming or appearance, and be set back by that as well.
Getting past depression
Depression, especially mild depression, is treatable and millions of people find relief from it each year. The tricky part is often breaking free from that conviction that either the situation is a lost cause, so that there's no point in trying, or that even if things are theoretically solvable, doing so would require too much energy and effort. Once the ball gets rolling and someone starts to feel a little better it's usually easier for them to keep going. It helps to start with very small, achievable steps and go from there.
It's important to have realistic expectations. You won't cure your depression in a day. If you work at it, your mood can improve, week by week, month by month, with some setbacks. One day it will hit you that you feel a lot better, and that it's been a while since you've had a truly bad day.
Self-help approaches to coping with depression
There's a lot people can do to try to alleviate their depression on their own. This is especially true if their symptoms are less-intense. Though I'm from the school of thought that it never hurts to see a professional such a doctor or a therapist, especially if some of your symptoms or thoughts are troubling to you. I also think it can be better to go see someone when things are mild and nip them in the bud rather than waiting for the problem to get worse, when it may be harder to treat. Going to a professional is also the only way to access medication, if that's an option you're open to. If you suspect your depression is tied into your overall crappy childhood, working in depth with a counselor is a good way to explore and unpack it all.
This isn't a site centered around depression, so it won't thoroughly cover how to treat it. However, a few of its articles go over strategies that can be useful:
People can do a lot to feel better by making lifestyle changes such as exercising more, purposely doing enjoyable things, and addressing the legitimate problems in their live. I cover that in this article:
Lifestyle Changes That Can Improve Mood
A second broad way to address depression to learn to handle the counterproductive thoughts it brings up. Some of these thoughts can be cut off at the source, and will clear up on their own, by elevating your mood overall through the lifestyle changes mentioned above. Directly tackling maladaptive thinking can help as well. I talk about that in these articles:
Challenging Maladaptive Thoughts
Accepting And Rolling With Maladaptive Thoughts