Social Isolation and Depression

A symptom of depression that can fly under the radar is social isolation. Isolation is the lead actor in the depression melodrama, ushering in the rest of the supporting cast – hopelessness, helplessness, self-absorption and a glass-half-empty type of existence.

We’re not here to be alone – none of us, yet this is precisely what depression invites. Aloneness totes along the demons negativity and stinking thinking; life then becomes cocoon-like and few other people, if any at all, are granted entry into the bubble.

As a mental health professional, I’ve found that two of the hardest concepts for depressed individuals to grasp are that they’ve got to get moving, and they’ve got to get out of their head. Both of these are counterintuitive to the ubiquitous notions among the depressed that the depression itself keeps them from moving and that it’s “all about them.” So pushing oneself is the essential key and it’s doable.

Management is largely dependent on how immobilized one has become. Those with severe depressive symptoms should take baby steps at first. This means poking a pin in the protective bubble that depression provides and getting out of the house. A simple walk to the curb or around the block in the sunshine can serve as a humble start to a regular exercise regimen.

The next step is talking to a trusted, caring family member or friend who has the capacity to listen and empathize. I’m a therapist by trade, but it’s my belief that depressed people should begin the unburdening process with someone they already know, unless they’re a danger risk to themselves or others. This is a much less threatening approach; therapy or counseling can come later.

Then there’s the effect of religion and spirituality on getting out of the self-absorption sphere which feeds social isolation. Turning over one’s tribulations to a Supreme Being not only helps get a depressed person out of their head – which is often an irrational place; there’s also peace and contentment in doing so. There are some situations in life where other human beings are merely supportive stand-ins with God as the defined safe haven. This is centering and grounding and if one’s belief is firm, feelings of isolation, and for that matter, isolative behaviors are diminished in that God is only a prayer or a plea or a place of worship away.

Do antidepressants play a role in minimizing the social isolation component of depression? Yes and No. Yes, in that many of these drugs have an energizing effect that is a key to getting moving. No, in that ongoing motivation to isolate less is a decision. Drugs don’t make decisions for anyone but they may very well facilitate getting the ball rolling.

Isolation fuels depression and vice versa. Remedies go something like this: talk, move, meds and consultation with The Man Upstairs.

Joseph Wegmann, R.Ph., LCSW is a licensed clinical pharmacist and a clinical social worker with more than thirty years of experience in the field of psychopharmacology. His diverse professional background in psychopharmacology and counseling affords him a unique perspective on medication management issues. In addition to consulting with numerous psychiatric facilities, he has presented psychopharmacology seminars to thousands of clinicians in 46 states.

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