Depression is a common mental illness characterized by a prolonged and pervasive feeling of sadness and struggles to keep interested in anything. Feelings of joy may feel overwhelmed by anxiety or tiredness, and even the normal actions of your day feel like they take tremendous levels of motivation and energy.
Often, people with severe depression have a hard time connecting with other people and may become isolated. This social isolation is an understandable reaction to depression, but it also makes it worse. Depression and isolation are interdependent with each other, with the two things causing and intensifying each other. Learning how to overcome the desire to isolate can often be a very important part of healing.
Psychologist and author Stephen Ilardi describe depression as a “strong urge to pull away from others and to shut down,” which is, unfortunately, “the exact opposite of what we need.” Both depression and social withdrawal amplify the level of stress the brain is feeling. Social connection is one of the best ways to regain it. This is because depression distorts the ability of the brain to process information, so things feel worse off than they really are.
Other people, who are able to look outside of our own head and give a different perspective, can help us to see the ways our thinking is more negative than reality itself. Closing ourselves off from input thus can exacerbate the problem of depression. That also means that fighting against the urge to withdraw, and instead of reaching out to people can be a very important part of recovery.
Start out small:
Going to a huge party when you really feel like staying alone is too much, and simply going to overwhelm you. It is important to recognize what you are able to handle, and be gentle and understanding with yourself even as you push yourself to expand social networks. The key is to go gradually and sensitively. Pick two or three friends or family members you think will be supportive, and try to reconnect and schedule a gentle activity together. As these interactions go well, the fear and low-motivation will gradually decrease, and you will find it easier to expand your social network more and more. For some people, simply being in a public place where they rub shoulders with strangers can be a helpful way to build up a sense they are not alone.
The thought of revealing the details around your depression and how hard it feels may be too overwhelming. There might be people who are otherwise good friends who may not be able to empathize or respond appropriately to your needs. Simply being together as friends can be important and healing in and of itself, but it’s also important to not feel on your own in your depression. You are not the only person facing depression, in fact, the World Health Organization calls it the most common mental health issue in the world.
The National Institute for Mental Health estimates that at least some depressive symptoms can be found in more than 15.7 million adults in the U.S. Therapist-led support groups can be an important way for people struggling with depression to meet each other, support each other, and learn from sharing each other’s experiences. Meeting one-on-one with a therapist can also provide a knowledgeable and sensitive listener, and give you space to practice opening up in vulnerability to others. If you are having an especially rough time, you can even call or chat someone in a crisis center or suicide prevention hotline, and talk to a supportive stranger who will listen thoughtfully and help you feel better.