Loneliness and depression have a codependent or symbiotic relationship. Each can feed upon the other; one can be the symptom of the other. Loneliness can cause depression and depression can cause loneliness too.
What is loneliness and what is depression?
To understand the connection between loneliness and depression, it is important to understand what both these concepts mean.
Loneliness is not simply about being alone. It is solitude caused by a lack of social relationships that leads to emptiness.
It is social pain that can be brutal and constant and can be quite toxic to life and well being.
It can corrode a person’s quality of life and any enjoyment therein. It isn’t just an inconvenience; loneliness can have health risks, lead to mental health problems, lead to antisocial behavior and gradually destroy life.
Depression or clinical depression is a mood disorder that can make a person feel hopeless, helpless, forgetful, unable to concentrate, engage in reckless behavior, experience low energy and even physical ailments.
However, one of the problems with loneliness is that it tends to be dismissed as a problem to “get over” whereas depression has begun to get the kind of attention that it needs. In the past few decades, depression has been recognized and treated as the mental ailment that it is. However loneliness, which can undermine lives and even shorten them, seems not to get the medical attention it needs.
How loneliness and depression are connected but different
Loneliness or lack of meaningful social contact can be one of the reasons for depression. Equally, it can be one of the symptoms or consequences of depression. A depressed individual can become asocial and withdrawn; choosing to isolate themselves. So loneliness can be a result of such depressed behavior, which may in turn exacerbate the problem.
So clearly there is an overlap between depression and loneliness. However one study showed that loneliness and depression are different phenomenon in the way that they operate, as well as conceptually. Loneliness was found to be a persistent phenomenon and one that tended to increase the severity of depression symptoms.
Researchers also found that loneliness is a predictor for later depression; that lonely people are more likely to have depression than people with low self-esteem.