I’m a psychologist who is fascinated by people. When I was depressed, however, that wasn’t the case. I wanted to be alone. When people reached out to me, I often pushed them away. It felt awkward to share how poorly I was feeling, so I withdrew into a cave of solitude.
In my cave, I thought about all of the times people had let me down over the years. I felt misunderstood, hurt, unloved, and unlovable. The more time I spent in my cave, the more it reinforced my sense of utter aloneness. Though it was sometimes comforting to retreat there, on some level I knew it was a trap I set for myself. But I stayed in that cave, as many people living with depression tend to do.
The ties between depression and disconnection
After 25 years of researching depression, I now have a better understanding of why I trapped myself in that cave. I’ve learned that the desire to distance yourself from others when you’re living with depression is very common. Not only do depression and disconnection go hand in hand, but they also reinforce each other.
Here are some examples of the strong links between depression and disconnection:
- People with depression are likely to keep themselves isolated. However, feelings of loneliness and isolation are often correlated with depressive symptoms.
- Depression affects relationships. It can eat away at the quality of a relationship over time, and people with depression, as well as their spouses, are more likely to report dissatisfaction in their marriage compared to couples where neither partner had depression.
- Depression is associated with fewer face-to-face interactions. For example, one survey of over 3,000 adults found that adults who spent more than four hours per day either watching TV or using the computer outside of work or school were at an increased risk for developing depressive symptoms. While this may not be true across the population, I think many of us can relate to feelings of isolation or distance when we spend more time with screens than other people.
Hiding in your cave might feel like the right thing to do when you’re depressed, but it can be harmful in the long run. Research has found that social activities such as peer support, skill building, group-based activities and education, cognitive behavioral therapy, exercise and linkage to community resources may help ease symptoms.
How can you fight disconnection?
People have a strong urge to disconnect when they are depressed. Fortunately, there are many ways to break the cycle of disconnection and depression:
- Your urge to withdraw is part of the depression. If you’re aware that your desire to hide is just your depression sneaking up on you, you’ll be more equipped to fight off such feelings.
- Take small steps to bolster your support network. For instance, join an online support group for depression. Many people find it helpful to talk to others who have had the same experiences. Connecting people with depression to share their stories is one of the reasons I created Depression Army.
- Consider volunteering at a local organization like a soup kitchen or animal shelter. Volunteering gets you out and connects you with a good cause. It may also help you feel less depressed.
- Sometimes, you’ll have to force yourself to socialize. You may not want to go bowling or to that backyard cookout, but know that every time you push yourself you are winning the fight against your depression. Usually, you will feel better afterward.
- Take one small step a day to improve a relationship in your life. Pay someone a compliment, be there for a friend, or purchase a loved one an unexpected gift.
- If it feels like too much to try to connect with other people right away, go to a park, a forest, or the ocean to connect with nature.
- If you want to learn more about the importance of your interpersonal patterns and how to change them, check out books on the subject, such as “Wired for Love” or “Lost Connections.”