"Depression isolation" - i.e. a person with depression socially isolating themselves when they feel depressed - is a very common symptom of depression1. Unfortunately, however, when someone with depression does socially isolate themselves, as we often hear from members of The Depression Project's community, it's also extremely common for the people they isolate themselves from to consequently conclude something negative and/or "bad" about them. For example, that:
- "They're a bad friend"
- "They're just rude"
- "They're selfish"
- "They're lazy"
- "They don't care about me"
- "They're just avoiding me"
However, what many people don't know is that there are actually many explanations for why people with depression may socially isolate themselves that are a direct result of depression itself. And, in this blog post, we'd like to share 20 of these reasons with you - as told to us by members of The Depression Project's community.
Additionally, in this blog post, we'd also like to share with you:
- 15 quotes about what "depression isolation" feels like from members of The Depression Project's community;
- Three strategies for how to cope with "depression isolation";
- Two suggestions for what to do if you know someone with depression who has socially isolated themselves;
- Answers to two additional questions that we're often asked about "depression isolation": "Is isolation good for depression? Is it bad? Can it make depression worse?" and "How long can "depression isolation" last for?"
As soon as you're ready, let's get started!
DEPRESSION ISOLATION: 20 Reasons Why People With Depression May Socially Isolate Themselves
- They need to process all of the complex emotions that are commonly associated with depression (such as, for example, feelings of fear and hopelessness about the future; the feeling of numbness that is commonly experienced in deep depressive episodes; feelings of worthlessness surrounding who they are as a person; feelings of grief surrounding the loss of the happy, enjoyable life that they had before their depression; and many, many more).
- They want to "protect" the people they love from their symptoms (for example, they may not want their loved ones to know how severe their symptoms are so as not to make them worry; and, due to how much anger can be associated with depression, they may be afraid that they'll snap and lash out at a loved one who doesn't deserve it).
- They're in "survival mode", and are therefore having to use all of their energy just to get by (meaning that they have no additional energy left to engage with other people).
- Given all of depression's debilitating symptoms they're fighting, they need time to rest and recharge their batteries.
- They're completely and utterly exhausted (which, like we often talk about at The Depression Project, is a very, very common symptom of depression).
- They don't want anyone to see them at their worst.
- They feel unworthy of support (which could be because, for example, feelings of worthlessness are commonly associated with depression; and/or because it's possible for people with depression to be so consumed with hopelessness that they feel as if they are "beyond saving").
- They need to be in their "safe space" (since when someone is fighting intense symptoms of depression, the outside world can feel very cold and unsafe).
- They may find themselves frequently crying as a result of their depression (which is something they may only feel comfortable doing by themselves in the privacy of their home).
- They don't want to burden others with their suffering.
- They need to decompress (like everyone does from time-to-time, but the need to decompress can be significantly stronger when someone is battling severe symptoms of depression).
- They're overwhelmed (given how exhausted depression can make a person feel and the extent to which it can cripple their motivation, even simple tasks can feel extremely overwhelming in a deep depressive episode - such as socialising with others, having a shower, and even getting out of bed, for example).
- They don't know how to talk about their depression (like we mention in another one of our blog posts, this is something that many, many people with depression can relate to).
- They fear judgment (which is something that many people with depression are often subjected to as a result of, for example, struggling to function as well as they otherwise would).
- They feel disconnected from the world around them (which is extremely common when, for example, the people around them are laughing and smiling, while meanwhile, they're feeling consumed with depression).
- They can't get pleasure out of anything - including spending time with their loved ones (this is particularly common if they feel "depression numb").
- They may be neglecting their personal hygiene (which is very common when someone's in a deep depressive episode, and when this is the case, they'll likely be highly reluctant to want to be around other people).
- Their depressive symptoms are so intense that they're having difficulty concentrating, and would therefore find it very difficult to maintain a conversation.
- They don't want to disappoint the people who love them (for example by, as a result of their depression, not being able to be the person their loved ones want and/or expect them to be).
- Given the severity of their symptoms, they don't have the capacity to hide their depression by faking a smile and pretending they're OK.
15 Quotes About What "Depression Isolation" Feels Like
A little while ago, we asked members of The Depression Project's 3,000,000+ person social media community:
What does "depression isolation" feel like?
And, now that we've shared with you 20 reasons why people with depression often socially withdraw, we'd like to share some of the responses with you - in order to help people with depression who at times isolate themselves to feel less alone, as well as to help people who don't have depression to understand "depression isolation" a little bit better.
- "Depression isolation is so lonely. You want help, but you don’t want to deal with people. You don’t want to feel like this, but you don’t know how to take the first steps to not feel this way. You want to be 'normal', but you have no energy to get there."
- "It feels debilitatingly lonely - because we are literally without so many people that were around when we were 'well'."
- "It’s cutting yourself off from friends and acquaintances before they see you as a problem. It’s believing that it might be too late, and that they already think you’re a problem. It’s declining interactions because you know you can’t bring anything of value to the table. It’s not wanting to bother anyone but hoping they’ll somehow know you aren’t okay and check in. It’s also not going anywhere and cancelling plans to be in your safe space without the pressure and effort of being social or engaging with others. It’s 'working from home' because you can't face the professional expectations at work or pleasantries from colleagues without feeling heavy and alone. It's not dating, and believing that you'll always be single. And, it’s believing that everyone you know doesn’t think about you and doesn’t care that you exist."
- "Depression isolation is not wanting to contaminate everyone in your life with your sadness, so you withdraw and hide it away."
- "I am going through this right now. It's very lonely. No exercise, no social life, no leaving the house. It's hard to think positively. Everyone I know thinks I'm OK but inside, I'm slowly dying. My emotions are becoming numb, but then there are times that I just cry with sadness. I have a lot of fear for my future and just wish I wasn't here at all."
- "A never-ending cycle. I stay to myself to avoid being a burden or bringing down others' moods ... but being alone makes my mood worse."
- "Depression isolation is like a deep hollow pit where you simultaneously don’t want anyone to ever speak to you, but you also ache for someone to notice and reach out. You don’t feel deserving of help and convince yourself you are a bother to everyone around you."
- "It feels like fighting a battle that you can't win. There's no-one to call on to, and one hard truth is that sometimes there's no-one to care."
- "For me, I believe that you can't truly understand 'depression isolation' until you can't stand your own presence in an empty room."
- "No friends. Feeling empty the whole time. Waiting for the end of the day so you can escape through sleep."
- "As others have said, depression isolation is very lonely. I've cut ties and connections with everyone. I feel lost. I don't know who I am anymore. I could literally sleep all the time, because if I'm sleeping, I'm not feeling."
- "Depression isolation = desperately wanting to get invited to events, but then not being brave enough to go. Friends eventually give up inviting you, and the number of friends you did have slowly dwindles away."
- "I would describe 'depression isolation' as an inevitable involuntary act of creating an impenetrable barrier surrounding your whole being. Nothing is welcome in, and nothing escapes. It's like bottling a lonely hell in a jar."
- "For me, depression isolation is wanting to be around the people I love, but physically not being able to be around them because I have no emotional energy left and all I can do is lay there and cry."
Do You Socially Isolate As A Result Of Depression?
If you have a tendency to "depression isolate" and can relate to some or all of what we've talked about in this blog post so far, then now, we'd like to share with you a few important tips to help you cope with "depression isolation".
Tip #1: Where Possible, Try To Engage With Others In Whatever Small, Manageable Ways You Can
Like we've touched upon, many forms of social interaction can feel too overwhelming for someone who's deep in a depressive episode. However, where possible to, we encourage you to try to engage with others in whatever small, manageable ways that you can.
- If you have a group of 10 friends who normally get together, then if meeting all of them in a busy environment feels like much too much, then perhaps you could reach out to one of those friends who's shown themselves to be empathetic and compassionate, and suggest to meet them somewhere much more quiet.
- Or, if meeting up with them face-to-face also feels too overwhelming, then perhaps you could talk over text message.
- Or, if talking in any capacity isn't something you feel you can manage, then perhaps you could do a more passive activity together online - such as playing a computer game, or watching a television series together via a "watch party".
Tip #2: Implement One Or More Strategies To Cope With Feelings Of Shame
It's common for people who "depression isolate" to feel shame as a result. For example, due to:
- Not being the person that they want to be for their loved ones;
- Not attending an important event (such as a loved one's birthday celebration).
If you can relate, then we encourage you to implement one or more strategies to help you cope with these feelings of shame. To learn a variety of these strategies, please read our blog post titled The Biggest Causes Of "Depression Shame" And How To Overcome Them.
Tip #3: Take One Or More Steps To Cope With The Negative Thought "I'm A Burden"
As we often say at The Depression Project, just because you think a negative thought, it does not mean that it's true. And, if negative thoughts surrounding being a "burden" are contributing to you socially withdrawing, then taking one or more steps to cope with this thought and ease its intensity can make it easier for you to reach out to loved ones. On that note, we think you'll find our cognitive behavioural therapy-based journal You Are Not A Burden really, really helpful.
Do You Know Someone With Depression Who Has A Tendency To Socially Withdraw And Isolate Themselves?
On the other hand, if you don't engage in "depression isolation" yourself but instead know someone who does, then we really encourage you to try your best to:
- Firstly, not take their social withdrawal personally. This may be difficult for you to do, since you may think, for example, "if they REALLY loved / cared for me, then they would meet up with me". However, as the quotes we've shared with you about "depression isolation" show, when somebody is "depression isolating", the symptoms of their depression tend to be severe, and what's more, they may be scared of reaching out because they fear being a "burden". And, as a result, it's entirely possible for somebody with depression to deeply love and care for you, but still isolate themselves.
- Secondly, if you think someone you know may be suffering in silence, then we encourage you to reach out to them through one of the ways we share in our blog post titled 50 Ways To Reach Out To Someone Who May Be Suffering In Silence.
Frequently Asked Questions About "Depression Isolation"
Last but not least, before we bring this blog post to a close, we'd like to answer two questions that we're often asked about "depression isolation":
- Is isolation good for depression? Is it bad? Can it make depression worse?
- How long can "depression isolation" last for?
On that note, let's now answer each of these questions in turn.
FAQ#1: Is isolation good for depression? Is it bad? Can it make depression worse?
As we've touched upon in this blog post, if you're in a depressive episode, then in the short-term, it can be worthwhile to have more time to yourself than you otherwise would - in order to, for example:
- Process any complex emotions you're experiencing;
- Rest and recharge your batteries;
- Focus on implementing strategies to help you survive- and ultimately come out of your depressive episode.
However, while socially withdrawing can have short-term benefits when you're in a depressive episode, if you isolate yourself for a prolonged period of time, then as we've also touched upon in this blog post, it can have significant long-term consequences - including, for example:
- The loss of relationships;
- A deep feeling of loneliness;
- Diminished confidence in your abilities (for example, to socialise and engage with other people, and/or to do anything outside the comfort of your home);
- Furthermore, as a result of, for example, the loss of one or more important relationships, deep feelings of loneliness, and/or diminished confidence in your abilities, self-isolation over a prolonged period of time can also make your depression significantly worse.
For this reason, if you have depression, then we really encourage you to try your best to only use socially withdrawing as a short-term strategy to help you survive a depressive episode - while at the same time implementing the strategies that we've shared with you to help you cope with "depression isolation" (such as trying to engage with other people in whatever small, manageable ways you can).
FAQ#2: How long can "depression isolation" last for?
This is a question we are sometimes asked by those trying their best to support a loved one with depression. However, we unfortunately can't provide a clear, concrete answer to this question - except to say that it can vary greatly from person to person. For example, some people may socially withdraw for a short period of time - such as a week or two, for example - in order to give themselves more time and space to rest and recharge while they're in the midst of a depressive episode. On the other hand, though, in some cases, self-isolation can become a long-term adaptation to depression that can last indefinitely (such as, according to members of The Depression Project's community, years or even decades).
Final Words & The Biggest Three Takeaways About "Depression Isolation" From This Blog Post
In this blog post, we've covered a lot of ground concerning "depression isolation". And, before we bring it to a close, we'd just like to reiterate three of the most important points that we have covered:
- "Depression isolation" can take place for a wide variety of reasons, and is a very, very common symptom of depression.
- If you do socially withdraw in response to your depression, then we encourage you to try to still engage with others in whatever small, manageable ways that you can.
- If you know someone who has isolated themselves in response to their depression, then please try your best not to take it personally, and conclude that they're avoiding you; don't care about you; or being "rude", "selfish", "lazy" or "a bad friend", for example.
We really hope you've found this blog post about "depression isolation" helpful.
All our love,
The Depression Project Team.