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Reviewed by Mary Lucas, RN
Written by Our Editorial Team
The loneliness epidemic has become part of the public lexicon because of how potent and painful an experience it can be. After all, at least 20 percent of Americans state that they suffer from loneliness. And when you mix loneliness and depression together, the statistics become even more bleak.
We’re breaking down the association between loneliness and depression, as well as the connections — big and small — between some of the two most profound, most serious mental health challenges confronting people today.
Although it is difficult to disentangle the feelings or emotions loneliness and depression cause — especially if you’re in the midst of a depressive episode — there is a distinction between them.
Depression is a medical illness that affects the way you feel and think. Further, depression can affect the way you view and interpret reality, putting a potentially nasty spin on the way you interact with the world at large.
What can make depression so perplexing is that it can alter the way you previously experienced your life.
For example, you may have derived a great amount of joy from playing a musical instrument or playing a recreational sport. Depression can swoop in and suck the joy and energy out of the very practices that once sparked joy.
Picking up the guitar and playing your favorite cover tune or playing a pick-up game of basketball just doesn’t do it for you like it used to.
Another critical component to understanding depression is how long it lingers.
Typically, symptoms of depression need to stick around for at least two weeks for most people to be considered in the thick of a depressive episode.
Although the textbook definition of loneliness describes a state in which you’re without company, alone — and sad as a by-product of those realities — that very definition doesn’t do the state of loneliness justice.
In fact, loneliness is more complex than meets the eye.
First, loneliness is not necessarily correlated to social isolation. You can have a high quality of life and still feel lonely.
You can be surrounded by hundreds of loved ones. You can be performing a job that provides you joy and meaning, have a loving family awaiting you at the end of the workday and have a home of your own — and still feel loneliness.
This is why loneliness can be so hard to pin down — you never quite know the cause of loneliness itself.
You just know the loneliness is there, and it proves a huge challenge.
And that challenge can, yes, lead to depression.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re at the beginning of your life or further along in your days, loneliness and depression can be nasty companions — and the association between the two has been proven time and again.
In fact, several studies have shown that the effects of loneliness, regardless of your gender or age, can strike at any time — and the impact that loneliness consequently has on your depression can come at you regardless of where you’re at in life.
It’s important to be hypervigilant when it comes to addressing such a critically important component of your mental and physical health.
A great deal of research has been conducted that proves loneliness is holistically awful for your health, and it’s worth paying attention to.
Although loneliness seems to fall under the umbrella of depression, they are actually different conditions that have overlapping qualities.
While depression needs to stick around for a couple weeks for medical professionals to consider it a true depressive episode, it’s never too early to clue into the signs of depression.
Signs of depression include:
Sadness can come in the form of negative feelings, feelings of loneliness, social anxiety — it can be sparked by a specific event or can come seemingly unexplained out of nowhere.
Fitful sleep can manifest in a couple ways: you’re having trouble falling asleep, or you’re having trouble staying asleep. If you’re experiencing sleep problems, depression may have something to do with it.
Lack of appetite resulting in unwanted or unintended weight loss or gain.
Scattered thoughts, lack of focus, difficulty thinking can all be by-products of depression. Simply, your brain just isn’t working properly.
Feelings of worthlessness, as though you or life don’t carry the same meaning or value as they once did. Are those thoughts true? No. Are they linked to depression? Absolutely.
Sense of meaninglessness in your everyday activities, like the sapping of joy you get from what used to bring it to you. The reason? Quite possibly depression.
Thoughts of death or suicide, though it goes without saying, are absolutely brutal, but are also strong indications of depression. If you’re affected by those thoughts and feelings, contact help immediately.
There are many effective interventions when it comes to combating a variety of mental health conditions — among them, loneliness and depression.
When it comes to taking the necessary steps to improve your mental health, what’s important is you don’t leave any stone unturned.
Fortunately, hers offers a variety of mental health services that can take a variety of approaches in helping you get the mental healthcare you need to help you help yourself.
Here are a few options available to you.
Therapy has proven to be an excellent way of combating depression, and it can also give you the necessary tools to put a dent in the feelings you have of loneliness and isolation.
There are, of course, a number of effective therapeutic methods to address your mental health care needs.
Online therapy is becoming an increasingly popular option to help put people in contact with board-certified mental healthcare professionals.
By connecting with a mental health professional, you can begin a one-on-one relationship to help you address the challenges that come your way.
Further, it can provide concrete solutions that help you pick yourself up, give you a game plan for feeling a little bit better every day and help you attain a better quality of life.
There are also online support groups that can give you the sense of support and community people desperately desire when they’re in a state of loneliness, depression or both.
Psychiatry is another effective tool in helping people pick up the proverbial pieces.
For those who aren’t aware, psychiatric care may come in the form of both talk therapy and medication.
Psychiatrists are trained doctors, and medications such as antidepressants are just another tool they can use to help you, the patient, in achieving the results you desire.
Medication has proven to be a safe, effective tool in combating depression.
It may just be the tool you need in improving your mental health and getting yourself back to full strength.
Fortunately, hers also offers online psychiatric care.
It may sound obvious, but sometimes, the way you counteract loneliness is by trying to make sure you’re sufficiently socializing.
Social relationships — they’re precious, and they’re always worth cultivating.
Unfortunately, a lot of the digital engineering marvels to which we’ve become accustomed don’t provide us with the same deep, lasting emotional joy — and sense of togetherness — that we need to not feel so totally isolated in our day-to-day.
Finding other activities like community service, an adult recreational sports league, a quizzo team, a book club or any other activity that brings people together may all be helpful.
What’s important is you find the tools to care for yourself.
The data and research are clear: loneliness and depression are serious mental health issues that require your care, concern and attention. The connection between the two isn’t the kind of connection or cycle to overlook and not respect.
While the challenge of taking control of the loneliness and depression you feel may be daunting, it’s never too late to deal with depression.
While there’s always been a stigma around seeking help for mental health, it’s never something to be ashamed of.
In fact, depression, regardless of its potency, touches an enormous amount of the population at one point in their lives or another.
What’s important is that you know you’re loved, supported and not alone in your mental health challenges.
Mary is an accomplished emergency and trauma RN with more than 10 years of healthcare experience.
As a data scientist with a Masters degree in Health Informatics and Data Analytics from Boston University, Mary uses healthcare data to inform individual and public health efforts.
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