Unraveling the Correlation Between Depression and Social Isolation


Unraveling the Correlation Between Depression and Social Isolation

Sep 29, 2020

Social isolation, including the type imposed during the ongoing coronavirus shutdown, can wreak havoc on mental health. Treatment at Northwest Ketamine Clinics can help with many of the symptoms caused by social isolation.  In this article, we will explore the effects of the social isolation that we are all experiencing, and some options for treatment and self-care.

Even before the pandemic, Americans were lonelier than at any point in recorded history, according to one large-scale survey by Cigna. Even anecdotally, you may have noticed a lack of social connectivity in your own life. Shockingly, the poll found that a mere 53% of Americans, barely half, report having “meaningful in-person interactions on a daily basis.” Those who never or rarely experienced these interactions were more likely to suffer from mental health conditions like depression.

In the modern era, we are increasingly consumed by personal devices like smartphones, choosing to engage digitally on social media over in-person, physical contact that we need to truly be healthy and happy.

The forced isolation we are now experiencing only serves to compound what experts call the “loneliness epidemic” in the West. In this article, we’ll delve into what the scientific literature says about depression and social isolation and how social distancing could affect your mental health.

What the Research Says About the Effects of Social Isolation

Due to the frequent use of solitary confinement, often called “administrative segregation” in American prisons, researchers have developed a better understanding of the devastating mental health impacts of social isolation.

These studies have shown us that social isolation can cause major problems including:

  • Psychological symptoms including anxiety, depression, anger, cognitive disturbances, perceptual distortions, obsessive thoughts, paranoia, and psychosis.
  • Many decompensate in isolation, requiring crisis care or psychiatric hospitalization.
  • The stress, lack of meaningful social contact, and unstructured days can exacerbate symptoms of illness or provoke recurrence of previously controlled conditions.
  • Increase in suicide.
  • Many simply will not get better as long as they remain isolated.

Social isolation poses such a serious risk to health that the UN and human rights groups worldwide consider solitary confinement to be a form of torture.

Humans as Social Creatures (the Evolutionary Explanation for Our Social Needs)

The discipline of evolutionary psychology focuses on the theory of how, and the extent to which human psychological makeup is a byproduct of evolutionary necessity – that is, our ancestors, over millions of years, evolved or were created so that the way we think matched our need for survival in the wilderness. 

One such adaptation that occurred in humans to foster survival is our complex social structure that emphasizes teamwork to complete tasks necessary for the group to thrive.

Think of the classic example of a team of hunter-gatherers on the tundra attempting to bring down a mammoth to feed themselves. Alone, a single human with a spear would have been inadequate. In a team though, the group was capable of overcoming the prey and feeding the tribe.

Depression due to social isolation does not occur “randomly” in people. With the historical need for teamwork literally enshrined in our DNA, understanding why we rely so heavily on our social connections for our well-being becomes easier. We are driven to cooperate and identify with one another out of deeply embedded survival mechanisms planted within our psyches. When we lack meaningful social connections, our nervous systems let us know that we are in a potentially dangerous situation by triggering depression.  Because this is a basic need of all humans, even the most introverted among us is likely to experience feelings of depression and hopelessness when exposed to prolonged social isolation.

Simply put, we need each other. We rely on our group for our physical needs as well as our psychological ones.

What Can Be Done to Address the Loneliness Epidemic?

The doom-and-gloom assessment of the challenging mental health situation described here begs the question: What can we do to repair our mental health through better social connectivity?

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. Technology will likely only serve to further alienate us from each other, at least in the short term. One possible solution is the use of “telehealth” to facilitate healing. Telehealth is the term for medical services and activities rendered online rather than in-person.

In addition to the potential benefit of visiting therapists and other providers via the web, telehealth also offers promise for people battling mental health conditions in the form of online support groups. Groups like these with a focus on specific mental health conditions – most commonly, the many sub-types of depression and anxiety – are shown to substantially improve patients’ sense of well-being, their sense of community and belonging, and their hope for recovery.

Obviously, telehealth has important limitations. Nonetheless, it offers an often times free, effective way to connect with others going through the same mental health challenges at a time when we could all use emotional support – especially those among us more vulnerable to the impacts of the shutdown like our friends and loved ones battling depression and suicidal thoughts.

Simple solutions like walks in the park and being around others, even in a socially distancing situation, can help reduce feelings of isolation.

Many groups such as book clubs, quilting or knitting clubs, religious and spiritual groups, or fan clubs for your favorite musician, actor, or sports figure can help foster feelings of togetherness and a sense of belonging and of community.

Many who experience the psychedelic effects of ketamine report a feeling of connectedness or oneness with the universe that helps relieve feelings of isolation.   This side effect of ketamine, when combined with the dramatic decreases in depression, suicidality, and anxiety in many people can cause a dramatic improvement in a persons mental health and help a person create a new outlook and desire to be “part of” rather then “apart from” the world.

During this pandemic, pay extra attention to your own mental health status as well as the health of loved ones who might be most susceptible to harm caused by loneliness, such as those with pre-existing depression.  Be proactive and plan events and celebrations to help maintain a sense of community and social connectedness.

If you or a loved one is dealing with the symptoms of depression we can help. Contact us today to learn more about the clinical use of ketamine to help treat depression, anxiety, PTSD, and suicidality.