“Loneliness reflects how you feel about your relationships. Depression reflects how you feel, period.”
– John Cacioppo, author of Loneliness
As you know, we have had many conversations about loneliness since this blog began. We’ve talked about how important it is to get to know yourself and be able to be alone and be content at the same time (finding the inner person); we’ve discussed being in tune with others and ways to get out there (finding the other person); and, we have tossed out the idea that spirituality can help us climb out of loneliness (finding the upper person). But we have only barely begun to touch on the subject of depression. How does depression relate to loneliness? Does loneliness have anything to do with depression? Are they one and the same?
Before we can even begin, we need to know some basics about depression. Like loneliness, it carries an indescribable weight along with it – one that a simple word cannot communicate. The depression we are talking about here is clinical depression. Doctors define clinical depression as having some/all of these symptoms:
– Ongoing sadness; crying frequently
– Sudden weight loss or weight gain
– Change in appetite
– Feelings of emptiness
– Feelings of worthlessness or helplessness
– Feelings of guilt
– Anxiety or feelings of restlessness
– Difficulty remembering, focusing, or making decisions
– Fatigue, low energy
– Apathy toward what you once found exciting
– Insomnia, or trouble sleeping
– Suicidal thoughts
Some of these symptoms, as you can probably see, are also symptoms of loneliness. Ongoing sadness, crying, worthlessness, guilt, restlessness.
We’re quick to find one-word labels for our problems, but truthfully, we are more complex than that. We are whole people, and our mind, body, and spirit are separate but all a part of us. So sometimes loneliness becomes a symptom rather than the problem. And sometimes depression becomes a symptom rather than the root problem. Psychiatrists have known for a while that loneliness often accompanies other conditions. But a study by Segrin showed that the “most common pairing was intense manifestations of both loneliness and depression” (Cacioppo 83).
Loneliness is bad enough on its own.
Depression is definitely bad enough on its own. I think it’s one of the very worst possible maladies one could ever contract.
Their relationship is stormy. They are a paradox – a yin and yang – both separate and whole. They feed each other. They feed off of each other. They pull each other & push each other. They fight each other, and they fight as a team against you.
Loneliness with Depression
Loneliness is a common “feeling” – one to which any human can relate. So, when we feel lonely and wanting companionship and deeper friendships, we can get to a point where our loneliness actually leads us into depression. Many physical illnesses unrelated to depression eventually lead to depression just because the sick person begins to feel loneliness. As the person continues to feel isolated in their illness or in their disability, they begin to feel lonely. Other factors lead them on a path that continues on into deep depression through stress factors and physical trials.
Depression with Loneliness
Depression is also common, but not so widely felt as loneliness. Though many people struggle with clinical depression, not everyone can relate to a chronic, constant state of sadness and apathy. Though loneliness can be immensely difficult, depression can be debilitating.
When we experience depression, it is because we are deficient in serotonin. This, then, causes feelings of being alone. The voice in our head tells us that we are alone. Alone-ness becomes a state of being, not a feeling. We cannot feel happy emotions. We, ironically, feel apathy. We feel the lack of feeling, and we experience that apathy deeply. Our ability to reach for others is stunted. We can become passive, and in so doing, we can become dangerously lonely.
The Tug-Of-War: ‘D’ versus ‘L’
In one corner of the ring, we have Depression. Down-and-Out ‘D’, trying to prepare to battle it out. He grabs one end of the rope and sighs. His odds don’t look promising.
In the opposite corner, Loneliness gives a shy smile. Left-Out ‘L’, bends down and holds the other end of the rope with one hand. Will he even try? Will he succeed?
They stand off. Down-and-Out ‘D’ against Left-Out ‘L’. The crowd sits back and wonders. Many of them leave. It’s not going to be an exciting match. These opponents are opposites, but they look like twins. They could join each other and fight against you easily.
Even though they are similar, Cacioppo the “loneliness expert” says this: “Loneliness, like hunger, is a warning to do something to alter an uncomfortable and possibly dangerous condition. Depression makes us apathetic. Whereas loneliness urges us to move forward, depression holds us back” (Cacioppo 83). Because they are linked in this way, loneliness seems to pull depression, and depression seems to push loneliness. It is a tug-of-war, a link that can be broken. But the lack of ability to control thinking and decision making makes it difficult for both to stop pushing and pulling.
On both sides of the tug-of-war, depression and loneliness are stuck. An outside influence is needed to break the chain. This can come in the form of an outside helper, an inside helper, and/or an upper helper – like we talked about. Medication may be needed for depression, even a little spark of desire to get better can come from within, and a look at the big picture or a spiritual identity can help you from beyond yourself or anyone else.
The thing is that we need to fight back. We need to catch depression at the onset and seek help. We need to notice loneliness and take action. If there is a long road ahead, we need to learn how to cope during the healing process – in the in-between no matter how long that may be.
We need to help others with these. We need to fight for each other. You may be the outside force for someone else. You may save a life.
Loneliness and depression are intertwined – both friends and enemies. Both hard to get rid of. I battle both often, and I’ve learned to let others help me. I’ve learned to help myself. And I’ve learned to look up. My hope for you is that you can get through these tough days and find hope. My hope is that you find joy – that you find meaning in the darkness.
Right now, I am filled with joy and I feel content. I pushed through yesterday and have found today. It’s possible. You and I don’t know what tomorrow looks like. But today can be joy. Hold on to that hope. It’s a weapon you can use to fight back.