3 Strategies for Overcoming Depression-Induced Loneliness and Isolation

Last Updated: 9 Nov 2020

Depression heightens loneliness, which only leads to isolation. Regardless, try to do something social—it might make you feel a little better!

Are you lonely? I often am. One thing I’ve learned about loneliness is that it’s easy to get confused about “bipolar” loneliness versus “real-life” loneliness. Whenever I find myself starting to think I have no friends, nothing to look forward to, and I’ll be lonely forever, there are three strategies I use to overcome my sad feelings.

Sometimes I get deep into depression before I remember to implement this process, but it does work for me.

1. Determine Whether What You Are Feeling Is Depression or True Loneliness.

For me, loneliness is a symptom of my depression. I isolate and say no to plans because I feel overwhelmed—and then I really don’t have anything to do to counteract my sad feelings. What a vicious circle! In reality, I’m blessed with many friendships. But when I’m ill, I can’t see this. Why does it matter if I know my loneliness is from my bipolar disorder? Because by recognizing that I’m lonely because I’m depressed, I can work on the depression and force myself to deal with loneliness head-on. In other words, by treating my depression, I can heal my loneliness.

2. Turn Off Social Media and Interact With Humans and Animals.

I turn off “social” media because it’s not a solution to depression or personal loneliness—and what’s more, it’s so volatile that it can cause more problems than it solves. Like everyone, I often turn to social media when I’m feeling down. I may get a short-lived hit of endorphins, but the good feeling can quickly turn to feeling upset.

I believe that real, physical contact in the majority of our relationships is essential for stable mental health. I have learned that it’s better for me if I force myself to turn off the computer, put down my phone, and talk to someone real when my mood is low.

Many people create or at least exacerbate their own loneliness by their actions (or lack thereof). I know I do. Feeling sorry for ourselves drives us into even more isolating behavior. This is why having a plan in place for real, physical contact-eye contact, shaking hands, pulling out chairs and talking in a group, even asking recipe questions at a meat counter in the grocery store—can help.

And yes, being with pets does count as physical contact, but that’s not enough. We need contact with pets and people. How about going to a dog park with your pet and talking with other pet owners?

3. Plan Events Even If (Especially If!) You Don’t Feel Like It.

Just get out there. My final strategy is one that’s very hard to do when I’m feeling down, but it works for me just about every time. I force myself to plan events with other people, no matter how I feel.

My brain will come up with so many excuses—I need to work. I’m tired. There’s a show I want to watch—but NO! I say to myself, I am going out!

We often have to fight our own brains to get what we want in life. Planning outings when I’m depressed is never fun. But once I’m out, I almost always feel better!

If you’re reading this and you think, I can’t do that, I’m not like Julie, I’m an introvert and being social is hard for me, then I have a suggestion for you: Put aside what you think and feel now, and make yourself do something social anyway.

Focus on how you feel after the event; that is your measuring stick, not how you feel before you do it.  Remember, depression will tell you that what you’re doing is pointless. It will heighten your loneliness and lead to more isolating behavior.

Do what you need to do anyway and focus on the outcome instead of on your feelings in the moment. If you come home and think, Wow, I never want to do that again, well, maybe it’s not for you. But what if you do something social with live human beings and your mood shifts and you feel less lonely? That is success! With practice, we can get used to taking better care of ourselves. That’s what I’m trying to do, and you can too.

Read more:
The End of Bipolar Depression Isolation
Bipolar & Pets: How to Overcome Social Anxiety

Printed as ” Loneliness: A Symptom of Depression” Spring 2018

About the author
Julie A. Fast is the author of Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder, Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder, Get It Done When You’re Depressed, and The Health Cards Treatment System for Bipolar Disorder. She is a columnist and blogger for bp Magazine, and she won the Mental Health America journalism award for the best mental health column in the US. Julie was also the recipient of the Eli Lilly Reintegration Achievement Award for her work in bipolar disorder advocacy. Julie is a bipolar disorder expert for ShareCare, a site created by Dr. Oz and Oprah. Julie is CEU certified and regularly trains health care professionals, including psychiatric residents, social workers, therapists, and general practitioners, on bipolar disorder management skills. She was the original consultant for Claire Danes for the show Homeland and is on the mental health expert registry for People magazine. She works as a coach for parents and partners of people with bipolar disorder. Julie is currently writing a book for children called "Hortensia and the Magical Brain: Poems for Kids with Bipolar, Anxiety, Psychosis, and Depression." You can find more about her work at JulieFast.com and BipolarHappens.com.
  1. […] Your child expressing feelings of loneliness or saying something along the lines of “I have no friends” could also indicate they are the victim of cyberbullying. Finally, if your child becomes withdrawn and doesn’t want to go to school, there’s likely an issue that requires your attention. Encourage them to turn off social media, and on your own, research the school’s cyberbullying policies. Depending on the severity of the situation, you may need to involve other parents, the school, and possibly law enforcement. […]

  2. I know that if I help someone or smile at everyone I meet that day, I will feel good about myself. However, I have a daughter whose 40 and left me about 15 years ago because I was verbally mean to her. It tears me up every single day. I have a 37 year old daughter, that I know is bipolar and in complete denial about it. She no longer talks to me. Then I have my 27 year old Son. A Chemical Engineer whom lives in Baton Rouge, and has a hard time talking to me or being around me for long. I am lonely, a part of me wants to die, but then I cry as long as I need to, fall asleep that way and sometimes have energy in the morning. I’ve been in therapy almost 30 years now. My life is better or I should say I have times when I feel good longer than I ever used to. I have my Faith. Julie, if you know of a place that I could go to meetings with people just like me. Please let me know. Thank You for your story, I really needed it.

  3. I found that volunteering can fight off the loneliness and sometimes lessen the depression. I would like nothing more than to stay in bed 24/7, but that isn’t reasonable, so I decided to be a volunteer at our local hospital. My job is that of hostess, (We are called ‘pink ladies’ because we wear a pink jacket as our uniform), to direct people throughout the hospital, take them to different departments, listen to people if they want to talk and discuss their families illness and problems,and serve coffee. I also use the computer to direct folks to their loved ones room and keep our desk supplied with face masks, packets of hand washing towelettes and the latest information about the hospital. I work 4 hours a week, and that doesn’t sound like much, but it is what I need. You make friends where you are, so everyone on our shift gets kinda close. There is also the local humane chapter that would love for people to play with the animals and take dogs for a walk. Again, it doesn’t sound like much, but it is huge in the eyes of these pets. I say volunteer, you will feel better for it!

  4. Yeah you actually have friends

  5. So confused in the midst of this latest and looongest ‘episode’. Is it depression, laziness, loneliness, technology addiction, menopause, coming out of divorce, am I just a loser? This article somehow normalizes my condition just by being talked about so thank you.

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