It may seem strange to pose this question: is it loneliness or is it depression? After all, many people feel loneliness at the loss or weakening of close relationships because of depression, and most of us who’ve lived with the condition over a lifetime experience those broken connections as some of its worst effects.
On the other hand, lots of lonely people are not depressed – sad, most likely, but not necessarily experiencing the classic symptoms. The two are different but often occur together. Getting straight about the difference isn’t a matter of hair-splitting for me. It’s been an important part of learning how to take my life back from depression.
The recent book, Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection reminds me of the way I got started in recovery and also offers new and helpful insights about the differences between loneliness and depression.
The authors explore why social connection is an essential part of human nature and what the effects of loneliness are, including long-term physical deterioration. They cite many cultures in which the worst punishment is not death but banishment, because it cuts a person off from every connection that gives them a meaningful place in the world. Deprived of that, they begin a collapse on many levels – from neurological to spiritual.
But this study also describes the importance of the pain of loneliness in the broad trend of human evolution as a possible warning sign. It can help sustain the bonds that hold a community together by reminding an individual of the central importance of human connection to survival. That impels a lonely person to restore the lost relationships. There is a pull to return.
We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community. – Dorothy Day
Depression, on the other hand, serves as a different kind of warning. Stress and other causes have created such harm that an individual can no longer be a helpful part of the community and must retreat from contact in order to heal. Depression impels a person away from social bonds, at least for a time.
The concept of this contrasting pull-push is a good description of what I’ve gone through.
Isolation and Loneliness
When I’m in the depths of depression I’m completely isolated from people. I can hardly focus on what they might be telling me or bear to make a gesture in their direction. My feelings aren’t there – I can’t respond. People sense I’m not really in their presence at all. Trying to be with others is painful, and I need to retreat to deal with my own sense of despair, worthlessness and the rest of the charming attributes of depression. I need to start healing and to do that I have to be alone and get into whatever treatment might help.
It isn’t until I’m coming out of depression and can see the damage I’ve done to my relationships – even if unintentionally – that I can begin to feel that loss. Then I’m deeply lonely and hope I can rebuild and restore the closeness and trust I’ve undermined. In our culture, though, that’s hard. There are no ceremonies to celebrate a return. I may more likely be greeted with mistrust, anger and distance.
No soul is desolate as long as there is a human being for whom it can feel trust and reverence. What loneliness is more lonely than distrust? – George Eliot
When I was putting this blog together, the first topic that came to mind as essential to recovery was connecting. It was a main theme that ran through the journals that were my first source for these posts. Connecting meant that, first, I had to reconnect with my own feelings, always so remote and unreachable during the worst periods of depression. I had to be able to feel again, and to do that I had to open doors shut firmly against even sense impressions of the world around me. Most fundamentally I had to accept myself again as a whole person.
I had to feel the strength come back to my own body, see the colors in things, hear the words people spoke, and laugh, grieve, feel lonely, want to be part of my family again, want to go to work. Reconnecting with my own feelings, responding to daily life, I could begin to restore deeper connections with my wife and children. I often went through all this quite quickly, sometimes waking up one morning and feeling human again. At other times, I had to use all the tricks I’d learned just to get started.
Hard as most of those periods of recovery were, they were lost in depression before long, and the whole process had to start over again. What has encouraged me more recently is that the pull from loneliness back into connection has been so much fuller and more complete than ever before.
This push-pull idea is a useful reframing of experience, partly because it suggests that there are forces moving in depression and loneliness that go far beyond my own boundaries. That is another reminder that I’m not so alone as I imagine when isolation seems most complete.
I know the experience of loneliness in relation to depression can differ widely in meaning for each person. What is it like for you?
Image: Some Rights Reserved by Alyssa L. Miller at Flickr
Hi my name is alishia Williams I’m lonely and depression I have no friends or life I’m going though emotionals please help me
Shalom , peace . I am so alone . I dont think its depression BUT which comes 1st the egg depression then loneliness or chicken loneliness thgen depression ? I have tried a lot of things including trying to start a knitting grp at a seniors ctr volunteering . I have chronic pain from arthritis in wrists hands and if I sit in my back and neck . ANYWAY. .. I tried lots of grps and now I dont have energy to try anything so that has made me afraid of people cuz things didnt work so many times. I dont want to be a ”fake happy ” or a ” fake nice ” person u know to win friends . I justy want to be me and be a ” realist ” . I feel alone in what interests me and now after all that trying people kinda bug me . I’ve been rejected by relatives and now i’m older and wish I had a sec. chance at life from about 20 yrs ago but no. I wonder what to do ? I dont trust people anymore . stuck between needing someone and trying to ACCEPT my lot and do the best I can u know ? I meet people who have a good life , a husband , a sister , etc someone that the care is mutual . It seems I used to get my validation from another by helping them and now I need help and no one is there. I dont even know what I need anymore??? beginning to be a comedy monologue or something? THX FOR LISTENING , GOD JESUS BLESS YOU ALL.
Thank you for sharing … I listen to you talk about it, well i read some Depression information from bphope magazine…and i want to share a knowledge with you..Major Depression Disorder Symptoms
It seems to me that depression is “advanced stage or beyond stage loneliness”. When you’re “merely” lonely, you still have a notion of what togetherness means. You still know what to work towards. But when you’re depressed, the mental infrastructure has become totally deteriorated. You don’t remember how trust and intimacy is established. You’ve (unknowingly) ditched those categories. You’re stuck in a daze of no past and no present and no future.
YES . I like how u described depression being an advanced stage of lonliness . I have forgotten what its like to have a friend I see regularly and hang out with and now I dont think I know how anymore . thats depressing to me . I ‘ve even asked a professional to feel sorry for me and she would not . wow makes me feel like a freak . I mean i’m sorry when others are suffering . —my grown kids suffer fro m sometimes depression so its hard for me to lift them up when I;ve had a mom who took her own life and I’ve suffered missing her all my life . wow Thx for listening m,y dear. how Io didnt bring everyone down too much. Shalom
Hi all. I don’t really know which I have but I have and continue to be alone all the time. I have been single for most of my life. The few liaisons I have had have been very brief. I am now all alone as even my parents are both deceased now. Even when I am in company I feel lonely as most of the time I find myself among people who are part of a couple and who often also have children. I end up feeling useless and unwanted. I am now 51 and still single. I also at the moment am unemployed and feel like a pointless person.
Hello there. I have been alone too. I had clinical depression since my childhood due to abusive family. Believe me I know what loneliness feels like. I know how overwhelmed one can get carrying it around.
Right now I live with a person I believe I love more than anything in the world. I feel like crap and can’t stop crying. Yet they are in another room absolutely ignoring me. I wonder right now what is the point of not being on your own. If every time I glance into the chasm of loneliness there’s nobody but me by my side, to comfort and soothe? I tell this person I love them every day and I kiss them every morning. Yet they won’t even bother to find out what’s wrong with me.
Lately I have been working on myself, confronting my codependency issues and believe it or not i’m making good progress. I’m finding ways to love myself just for me, those are truly individual for each of us. Dear Scott, I dont know what trauma you faced in your life, but chances are if you feel useless and unwanted, you have faced abuse. So let me tell you, you’re not useless, you’re not unwanted. I really hope you can find a way back to yourself. It’s a long journey, but it’s a nice one with goodies along the way. There will be days when you feel crap, forgive yourself, honestly. Wherever you are, forgive yourself and -if you can – forgive others. But most of all forgive yourself. “Let yourself in”. If there are people in your life you can’t bring yourself to forgive, then we’ll, you don’t have to. Maybe it’s too much to ask – don’t let any “moral” people to tell you otherwise. Some of us had unspeakable things done to us. We’ve been conditioned , brainwashed , or simply forgotten. I’m just saying “hi there!” You’re not alone, you’re not useless, if you have no job – still that doesnt make you less of a person (many people will have us believe otherwise). I truly hope that maybe my message will be read and something great will happen – it might trigger something, maybe help you journey back to you.
From person to person , “pay it forward” , make the world go round. If you’re anything like myself , looking at what codependency is might help you change how you see yourself. Or maybe you’re nothing like me and the roots of your loneliness are fundamentally different.
It’s funny how I’m part of a couple and sometimes it feels lonelier than being on my own. In my humble opinion, (this has come out of very painful life experiences of the past) until we truly love ourselves… It just doesn’t get better. Yes, we can get other people to love us (contrary to what communal wisdom suggests) but we remain with all the same issues we had when we were single.
Hope this helps… Many times, you’re not useless
No one is pointless…we all have a purpose even tho we may not know it at that time. I have been alone for a long time as my husband died 19 years ago. I haven’t been able to move past it i was young. I feel your pain. I feel having someone to talk to helps as do hugs and prayer…if u need to chat…
I feel happy, I feel full of joy, life, energy and positivity I use to have depressive feeling years and years ago and I identified that feeling and its not the same feeling I have now. its a feeling or utter disappointment and sometimes this overwhelming feeling of loneliness kicks in but its a feeling that I is quite painful not to my body heart or mind but to my soul. I can shake it off quite quickly but I don’t know why it just happens its a strange one because I know its nothing to do with depression. I lost a job I really loved doing, I lost a partner of 5 and a half years I was engaged to and a dog I classed as my best friend. when all this came crashing down I wasn’t upset, angry. bitter or had any ill feeling towards it I just felt disappointed. I think I have been through every emotion any one could go through ten fold in my life but this feeling of disappointment is new to me even though now I have a job which I love doing and can see me doing really well and I have got family and friends who love me but I cant put my finger on why I feel as though I get that painful disappointment feeling.
I feel your pain I too am a women very deppressed been told I was ugly more than once had a guy once leave me stranded on the street after talking on phone for a week and then meeting in person I know if I was truly pretty etc this would not have happenned.. I’m 55 yrs now no marriage no kids I dint want to continue like this.. MY OPINION LOOKS MEANING FIGURE FACE IS EVERYTHING FOR A WOMEN AND NOT HAVING THAT PUTS ONE AT A TERRIBLE DISADVANTAGE AND CAUSES LIFELONG PAIN WHY BOTHER LIFE ISBT FAIR.
Hi Judi. That’s not true. Looks and attractiveness can not get you everywhere, well at least not v. far. My mother incorrectly taught my siblings and I that being pretty or beautiful got you everything. I always say in my case ‘it gets your foot in the door but doesn’t take you to the altar.’ I know many people that aren’t conventionally attractive who have great careers, family, and fulfilment in their lives. I’m attractive but lonely and depressed. My daughter is about leave home for university and I’m always thinking I have nothing to live for I don’t have the energy or motivation to meet someone online or in person. I just work come home or isolate myself at home. My few close friends tell me don’t worry you’re attractive you’ll find someone you’ll come out of your depression and all I think about is I’m lonely and want to die. Those guys that say those things on the street or don’t follow up on dates forget them – not worth the time. I know being happy in oneself is key before trying to share happiness with another.
I know how you feel. I was always the ugly girl. Then I lost weight and everyone liked me. What shit. Now I’m dying from cancer and no one wants to spend time with me. I’m so alone. If you want a friend I’ll be your friend. We don’t need to live close to be friends
Hey Joanne, not sure if ur interested in chatting somehow. Im not very tech savy but maybe you could send me an email. Broke my foot 6 weeks ago, my grown up children seem to find it too much to text to see how I am and I cant get out till it heals. I know exactly what its like to be the “ugly duckling” it shapes who you are on many levels. Id like to hear from you if ud like, Sharon
I wrote that so long ago but it’s still true. I’m dying and weak and sick and lonely
Joanne, do you not have any kind of support at all? I wish I could give you a big hug annd say I care!!! Does the cancer Society not help you in any way? What country do you live in, thinking of you , Sharon
I’ll be your friend if it’s not too late. You can reach me at Laserbeam [at] shaw [dot] ca
Almost all the posts here are old. That makes me think no one is replying here anymore. I’m crying myself to sleep AGAIN tonight. Has anyone ever used an on line counseling service?
Hey, V, I’ve had the same thing for a year now, crying myself to sleep, feeling miserable overall, can’t concentrate. I was even on the verge of suicide, BUT I found someone who I thrived to live for, at first it was my brother, then some my friends fell into that group and finally, now, really like 4 days now, I’ve really started to like a girl, and even found out she feels something for me.
Now I’m nowhere from being cured, but I picked myself up for her and my brother mostly, and even though it was been a few days, I’m feeling much better.
Bottom line is: Don’t give up, I know, seems ironic that someone who has depression really says this, but seriously take it 1 day at the time. Focus on what you need to do: If you haven’t worked out lately, go and exercise a bit, falling behind at (school) work? Take a deep breath, look what you need to do and start doing it 1 by 1.
Darlene Graham says
Hi thank you sooooo much for the encouragement, But I don’t know if I’m lonely or depressed I really can’t tell, So how do I tell
This is soooooo very saddening to me, I had Appendicitis surgery
Now I’m two weeks inside after my surgery
But i feel so lonely and along what is going on with me, I keep on Praying.
I would love to know what comes first, loneliness, or depression. I have suffered with depression my whole life, I’m scared to connect with anyone for fear of rejection. I have no family, no job and no home, because I am a social outcast. I blame my looks, I am ugly. There is no support group, no movement to support the plight of ugly women. Is depression and loneliness because of that, or is it an internal dialogue. Do I project my isolation, or has society deemed it a necessity?
love can help to avoid this. love come from community, true.. but loneliness block and stop to access to community to achieve love..
Effort require to reduce loneliness. but seeking of that love and trust very difficult.
Mental health is something that is subjective to each individual – there is no formula to follow. It is something that should be approached carefully and seriously. But thank you for raising some important and interesting points in this article.
it’s so sad how I’m mostly the only one who’s under 20 and suffer from deep depression/loneliness.
I don’t even remember how it all started but I’ve stuck with depression since I was 7 now I’m 18,first year university student, and that depression just kept on getting stronger. Now depression is a part of my everyday life it’s damn rare to have more than 10 normal days each year.
Im noel, its been addressed that i have depression and an aniexty disorder but aside from im so lonely i just want to cry right now. My only support is my mom but she died 4 years ago, i have 1 year son and his dad isnt around. People who call me a friend, dont ever come to visit and men only come if i offer sex. I cant get babysitter, i dont drive and a couple people only call me when it suits them. I wake up mad sometimes because im here another day but then where would my baby go? I dont have resourses to meet people and if ever i did, would know how? Im scared of being used in a relationship or friendship. Im scared that if i meet a man and love him, he could possibly be an child molester/abuser. I hurt inside and out most days, people never because i keep to myself at work. The high of weekend is my baby,coffee and the golden girls because these are the only things that make me smile. Another 19 years then i can end it all because no one will ever love me, my perception of people are so there goes a chance of making friends and one he grown and living life my baby will leave me too. To add insult to injury, my 30 bday is coming up and all i have plans to do work,is be mom and maybe come home and get high and drunk once the baby is sleep. Ugh….
sucks to be me.
I’ve been teary eye all morning just so lonely I know how u feel
same.. but male version hehehe but you know what your lucky than me because you have a son to live on.. me f–k this life sooo dark….
My husband passed away fifteen yrs ago I had four good friends I talked to every day they all passed away in a two year period one of witch I grew up with since we were two year’s old now I dont talk to any one much I have grown children but they git their own lives and one child of mine my oldest passed away wnen he was 22 and my daughter who has lived with me for years is moving out with my eight year old granddaughter who has been with me since birth I’m so sad I went to church and went there a long time until a pastor came there and about all the members are all leaving because of him long story there I have no one to call or talk no one calls me since my friends died I have friends they just see me out at the store or speak I’m so lonely we all use to go to bingo or shopping now I am house bound I just sit nothing interest me can you help
Guessing its just being lonely for me, Been on my own for 15 yrs now, My 2 sons have their lives and live in different areas outside of work these are my only 2 contacts really, and contact is less and less as they have own life and dont want them knowing how bad mine is, I have no confidence at all with the opposite sex, if people are in a group i feel on the edge, And as i read this i know i have nothing at all to look forward to except sitting in tears, Not sure why i have wrote this i know its of no help to anyone.
It helped me. x
Linda says. It helped me. My husband passed in late 2003 and have been alone since. Had 3 friends but lost one …..my doing … tried to restore but it didn’t work. So I have 2 good friends that both live out of state. My job keeps me going. Not a replacement for that special connection with just the right person. Hard to parly a job into staying where there are no friends.
I met a gentleman on line over a year ago. In the beginning he said I made him feel like 21 again and made him very happy. We dated most weekends as I work away and I eventually moved in with him as I was having problems living with my sister. However, now I feel very lonely as the relationship isn’t going anywhere. As long as he gets sex when he wants it, that’s it. He is still in contact with his ex wife and an ex girlfriend and I haven’t mentioned to him that I know. He can be quite secretive and selfish and is totally oblivious to my plight. For a man who once said I made him happy again and told me he loved me, he now goes around without a care in the world and does his own thing constantly.
My two children rarely contact me, but I keep up the contact with them via emails and visit when I can.
I started the framework for a blog like this last year and realized I had not healed enough to even get started
This is a great site with more information than most and I have discovered through reading some of the posts that I suffer from loneliness, which makes me feel depressed, but I don’t have the symptoms of depression if I stay socially connected. It is critical to have social interaction and for me critical to have a core or base (family) in order to really thrive. I am a single mom and I have found that I can go and push forward and live for a certain amount of time and then I crash… because I don’t have that base of support that is needed to live a healthy productive life. I am a very positive person with a lot of energy and very capable of meeting new people etc, but there are some things in life that we simply cannot do for ourselves and one of those is building a family, friends and support when you are single. We can work on ourselves and have an open heart to receive, but we cannot do the all the work ourselves and this is where Faith comes in and this is where it is easier somedays than others
Peter (@PeterFluffy) says
they are twins they come together to make life suck on a daily basis…u feel lonely in a full room you feel helpless all the time.
You’re so right! Added to what you said is the feelings I get that I am not wanted, nor am I worth caring about. I feel as if I am just tolerated, allowed to share this earth with those more worthy. This was a long time coming, and now that I am in the most need, I am alone, left to deal with a monster that steals my place in the human race!
Married 3 bio kids 4 step kids. Love them they are my world. But yet often I feel as I don’t belong in my own family. Need help trying to figure this out where to go to meet other people to make friends, as I have none and often feel as a burden to my own siblings and parents. I have always felt non important I talk tons to my mom I don’t shut up but she is the only one I feel I have to tell anything too and then I feel bad because sometimes it’s just garbage I’m talking bout but it’s making me feel good I have someone listening. Maybe I need serious therapy but any suggestions. Would help thanks
hello, ..has anyone a check list ideas for getting thru the ..down times………….In Shadowlands, the author gives C.S. Lewis a quote, ” we read to know we are not alone”…….I have just come across Marilynne Robinson. It is good to find an author with the gift of insight saying the very things we have never voiced but always felt……….. I am reading Lila, by Marilynne Robinson, and am struck by the similarity between long term depression and loneliness. The author says something, ( I can’t find the page / quote just now) about how she knows the pang of hunger and the pang of the cold and the pang of poverty, and now she knows this particular pang that shows up from time to time, is loneliness. L. has a way of affecting her body as a physical thing, even if only for a glancing moment. I fully understand and know this but always defined it as a moment of depression, the DIP in the road called LIFE. ……………………Any other thoughts, or should I leave this topic well alone, ( the physical pain of Loneliness) and has anyone a check list of what to do to get through that moment if it lasts too long….. Thanks to Susannah , I have some some memos to help………… light the candle and ponder upon its flame and meditational relaxation and morning pages and mindfulness
Hi John, I’ve only just come upon your website quite by accident. I wanted to know the difference between loneliness and depression. I suppose I’m one of the lucky people in the community that has never suffered from either until now. Maybe that’s why I’m finding my loneliness so difficult, up to now I’ve had a very fulfilling life, but that was then and this is now and life is horrible for me now because I don’t have enough social contact. I put a notice up in my local supermarket to try and attract people to build a better community in my area, I had no response, who ever read it probably thought it was a bit pathetic, in the past I probably would have thought the same. How the table turns in life!!! Thank you for your blog, it has helped to know I’m not alone. Very sincerely yours, Eileen.
Hi Eileen, your not pathetic. When things are going well in peoples lives they are oblivious to other peoples plight
Ann Louise says
Hi Guys and Girls. Same problems with SAD, depression and isolation. Have a hard time dealing with all these emotional issues. etc. Would it be possible to make Skype group or videochat online?
I need help! I am dyslexia! I have coverd this for your years. I get by with it by hiding it. As long as I can remember. I have been mad, depress, anger, lonely and lost my marriage. Can’t read, write and no job. Nobody wants to hire stupid people. I can’t sleep, I feel the walls coming on me. Something happen to me as growing up. I sit down all day and think about sadness in my life. My mother perfer to be with my sister and het sons. I can’t remember anythink nice about my life. Just bad things. No money! No job, every time I start to write it’s about sadness, hurt, pain. I want to be smart and pretty. I want to trust and believe in people. I have two beautiful daughters I love very much and care for. I have holed job like receptionists. I can’t even take notes down the fear of Somebody finding out I am dyslexia. I am barassen about this. I live with somebody but he say I don’t make sentences half the time. Just sad and anger mad at the world.
beverly s says
Robin, please don’t be embarrassed. Dyslexia is something you did not choose and it doesn’t by any means equal stupid. I can’t imagine the resourcefulness and cleverness you have relied on all of your life to continue hiding your dyslexia. Did you know that whoopie goldberg is dyslexic? I am no expert…far from it. But I believe there is help out there. Try googling dyslexia and your town and maybe see what resources might pop up.
And you probably are already smart and pretty, but just don’t see it. If you get help with coping and adapting with/to the dyslexia it might be a first step toward feeling better..best wishes to you.
I have met many intelligent people with dyslexia who are very successful. There are resources that you can access to get help. My boss had to go to a learning centre for a year but she now has her masters and is an amazing psychologist. Good luck!
My English teacher is high school was dyslexic, and she was absolutely brilliant! My absolute favorite teacher in the world!
You just have to remember this quote she always said, ” I put the ‘sexy’ in ‘dyslexia’!”