Solitude and depression: How are they connected?

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Page last updated: 10/11/2022

Solitude and depression: How are they connected?

In this article we will discuss how solitude and depression are connected. 

We will also discuss the difference between the desire for solitude versus depression, the dangers of isolation, and how one can cope with loneliness and solitude.

Solitude and depression: How are they connected?

If we consider the relationship between solitude and depression, there is no direct relationship. It is not necessarily the case that solitude causes depression. 

Instead, when we consider what could increase risk of depression is the misconceptions about self worth that is driven by one’s perception of their state of loneliness. 

There have been a number of studies that have shown that loneliness and isolation does impact an individual’s mental health. 

Loneliness in solitude is one of the reasons why people who isolate themselves experience low moods and this desire for social connection is what causes much mental and emotional distress. 

Loneliness while also wanting social connection tends to be caused by involuntary separation, rejection, or abandonment by other people. For example, loss of a parent or a recent break up that you did not want. 

When people go through unwanted social isolation and alienation, it can bring about intense emotional distress. They might feel hopeless, worthless as they perceive themselves as unwanted or unvalued. 

However, it has to be mentioned that solitude does not always have to be a bad thing, in fact the act of engaging in solitude does seem to have important mental health benefits. 

When we talk about solitude, it is more of a voluntary choice to be alone. This does not necessarily mean that you are lonely when you are alone. 

In such a case, people who seek solitude like to spend time by themselves and during this time, they are able to use their aloneness in fruitful ways. For example, self reflection. 

When we consider loneliness, it is a state of mind where an individual feels anguish at the fact that they are alone but strongly desire human connection. This often can be seen when people experience unwanted isolation or when they feel no true connection to the people around them.

These feelings of social isolation or dissatisfaction with your relationships can absolutely play in deteriorating mental health conditions especially when feelings of loneliness are left unresolved.

When we talk about loneliness and its impact on mental health, how we perceive loneliness and how it impacts our self image is what causes much of the mental distress. 

For example, when your friends have been too busy to spend time with you and you have been feeling lonely- if you are someone who has a poor self image, it is possible that you might develop negative feelings towards yourself. 

You might begin to develop feelings of worthlessness and the feeling that you are not loved, and this in turn can lead to a sense of hopelessness about your social relationships- from “I am not loved” to “No one will ever love me”.

This sense of worthlessness and hopelessness is in fact what causes low moods and eventual depression when these misconceptions and negative ideas about yourself and the world are not resolved. 

Solitude and depression: How are they connected?

What is the difference between desire for solitude versus depression?

Solitude or the desire for solitude is a voluntary choice to take a break from one’s social relationships to invest that time on one’s own personal and inner world. 

A person who seeks or desires solitude does it mindfully and with intent to use that time to focus on their inner world through self reflection or by learning and exploring parts of themselves. 

It is an act of self care however, a risk that comes with active solitude is the threat of loneliness when one is not mindful about their choice to remain in solitude. 

When one seeks solitude mindlessly while having a deep desire for social connection, this discrepancy in needs can lead to a feeling of loneliness and isolation.

However, it has to be mentioned that solitude or loneliness does not mean that one is depressed. Seeking solitude is a mindful state whereas loneliness is a transient feeling that is temporary and things can be done to connect and no longer feel lonely. 

As for depression, it is not a need for connection, rather it is a serious mood disorder where people affected by it experience persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness. 

Apart from these symptoms of emotional distress, people with depression can also experience physical symptoms such as chronic pain, or changes in their behaviour such as social withdrawal or slowed movements.

For someone to be diagnosed with clinical depression, symptoms must be present for at least two weeks. The symptoms include:

  • Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day- either by their own observation or observation made by others.
  • Diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day.
  • Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day.
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia. 
  • A slowing down of thought and a reduction of physical movement (observable by others, not merely subjective feelings of restlessness or being slowed down).
  • Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day.
  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day.
  • Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide.

To be diagnosed with depression, these symptoms must cause significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. 

How to cope with loneliness and depression?

Here are a few things that one can do to cope with their feelings of loneliness or depression:

Seek out  professional help

The first thing you can do is to figure out whether what you are feeling is lonely or whether you are depressed. 

If you have been experiencing symptoms mentioned above for more than two weeks and it is impacting your other relationships and your professional life, we advise you to seek out professional help immediately.

Depression is not just low moods of loneliness, it won’t simply “go away”. There needs to be an active effort to work through your condition as well as pharmacological support that you might need in the case there are neurological causes to your condition. 

Your therapist will help you understand what is happening to you, might prescribe you medication if needed, and can help you tap into your own strengths that can help you adapt to challenges, changes, and overcome them.

Actively seek positive experiences

According to positive psychology research, positive feelings are an important aspect of well-being. For a person to engage in activities and other experiences that help them feel positive feelings such as love, belongingness, achievement, and a sense of hope is important.

This could be as simple as watching a movie, petting your cat, taking your dog for a walk, eating ice cream. Do what makes you happy without judging yourself for these choices.

Spend time with loved ones

Once you feel like you are up for it, take time to seek out support from your friends, family, and loved ones. Positive relationships are also important for wellbeing. 

Talk to them about how you are feeling- let them know that you feel alone or lonely. Let them provide you company when you do not want to be alone- take effort to reach out to them. 

Allow yourself to feel loved by people who genuinely care for you and seek out new meaning from these positive and healthy relationships. 

Focus on self-care

While it might be hard to take care of yourself- you might find it hard to eat, wash, wake up, and do other basic things. 

It is okay to allow yourself to let yourself go for a few days but making the effort to stick to routine and structure in your day to day life can help you move forward. 

You can choose to make new changes that help you feel better or healthier like going to the gym, changing your diet to a more healthy one, going for wants. Sometimes change in routines can also be your way of caring for yourself. 

Join a support group

Another thing you can do for yourself is to join a support group of people struggling with depression so that you can experience emotional support first hand within these communities and over time learn how to manage your challenges by learning from each other. 

By joining a group that is open, empathetic, and growing towards healing, you and your experiences can be an excellent sense of support to someone else who is also in their early part of their journey. 

Try mindfulness

Mindfulness, or paying attention to the here-and-now can keep your mind present and away from various preoccupations you might have or negative thoughts you might be ruminating over. 

Being mindful means being present and aware of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviour. It means being able to walk yourself through what you are doing, thinking, and feeling rather than it being an automatic process. 

You can choose to practice deep breathing, yoga, meditate, or do body scans in a meditative and relaxed state to bring your body and mind to a state of awareness and being rather than be stuck in a loop of irrational ruminations.

Conclusion

In this article we have discussed how solitude and depression are connected. 

We have also discussed the difference between the desire for solitude versus depression, the dangers of isolation, and how one can cope with loneliness and solitude.

FAQ related to Solitude and Depression

How does solitude affect mental health?

If we consider the relationship between solitude and depression, there is no direct relationship. It is not necessarily the case that solitude causes depression. 

Instead, when we consider what could increase risk of depression is the misconceptions about self worth that is driven by one’s perception of their state of loneliness. 

It is not the act of withdrawing from others that causes depression but rather it is the perception we have of ourselves when we feel alone or lonely. 

What is emotional solitude?

Emotional solitude can be a voluntary act to separate one’s self from another person in an effort to take mindful focus on what is happening within one’s inner world- thoughts and feelings. It is the act of setting up healthy boundaries in terms of one’s emotions. 

Is there a link between loneliness and depression?

Yes, there is a link between loneliness and depression. Research finds that the higher the loneliness score, the more severe the symptoms of depression. 

References

American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association, 2013.

Higuera. V, Everything You Need to Know About Depression (Major Depressive Disorder), Healthline, November 16th, 2021. https://www.healthline.com/health/depression

Raypole.C. Loneliness and Depression: What’s the Connection? Healthline. Retrieved on 28th March 2022. https://www.healthline.com/health/loneliness-and-depression

Novotney, A. (2020, March). The risks of social isolation. Monitor on Psychology, 50(5). http://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/05/ce-corner-isolation

Cherry.K.Loneliness: Causes and Health Consequences. Verywellmind. Retrieved on 28th March 2022. https://www.verywellmind.com/loneliness-causes-effects-and-treatments-2795749#toc-what-research-suggests-about-loneliness