Combating Isolation and Depression In Treatment and In Recovery

The connection between isolation and depression is fairly straightforward, but group therapy in and after treatment can be a great way to combat both. Then after treatment, there are other ways to maintain socialization in your everyday life to strengthen your mental health.

My parents divorced when I was twelve years old, and I remember my father saying, several times:

It’s all going to be okay. Everything is going to be okay.

He was right. Yes, there was a lot of residual emotion that remained for a long time, but with help I was able to heal. I am okay; in fact, I’m happy.

My father, in trying to assure me and my brother that our pain would soon heal, left himself out of the equation. Deep down, he had been scarred and emotionally traumatized from the divorce. He moved into an apartment alone, never went on a date, and his only outside interactions became work and shopping for goods and groceries. Isolation became his coping mechanism.

The isolation and intense emotional pain led to paranoia, depression, and extreme mental distress, and treatment was sought. Though I can’t say for certain what the exact trigger was, it was evident that years of living in loneliness had taken a very deep toll on his psychological and emotional health in ways even he couldn’t have predicted.

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Connecting Isolation and Depression Through Science

Though being alone in times of crisis or difficulty can be healthy and essential for emotional processing and healing, too much of it can begin to spiral into a darker, unhealthy place—and can often lead to debilitating depression that requires medical attention and treatment. Similarly, depression can be the springboard for individuals who have gone through troublesome situations, and can be the reason for the development of isolating and antisocial tendencies. While it doesn’t truly matter which comes first, it is scientifically accurate that both depression and isolation are very intricately linked—and should be treated as such.

Both isolation and depression can be traced to heightened levels of cortisol, the hormone produced when one is under duress. Age and illness (or being prone to it) have both been cited as major factors for the onset of depression, loneliness, and self-isolating tendencies; in fact, a 2010 study by the AARP found that about one in four adults over the age of 45 would consider themselves “lonely”—a feeling that is intimately linked with both isolation and depression.

Perhaps the most interesting scientific link is one first theorized by Sigmund Freud, who rationalized isolation as a defense mechanism—one that creates a gap between the self and the social world that may help an individual avoid unpleasant and, in many cases, personally unbearable emotional situations. Low self-esteem and a fear of rejection are the two most recognized traits that can lead an individual to self-isolate in order to protect his or her self. Often, because being alone actually feels safe and comfortable, an isolated individual may not even recognize that depression—sometimes severe depression—can manifest from little to no social interaction over time. It is important that both isolating tendencies and signs of depression blooming from them are taken as serious mental health complications, and that professional treatment is vital to beginning the healing processes.

Group Therapy In and After Treatment

While social interaction can seem daunting and unimaginable for those who usually shy away from or are afraid of those types of situations, overcoming those mentalities is crucial to the treatment process. Group therapy, while potentially intimidating at first, is a great first step to engage with other people who are going through similar struggles and emotions. At treatment programs like Bridges to Recovery, group therapy is a safe, judgment-free space where all experiences are welcome. Facilitators create a warm environment from the outset, allowing participants to begin their journey in socialization and positive interactions with other individuals who have been separate in their struggles, but together in their decision to heal.Not only will it be clear that you are not alone in the ways you feel, but you will be learning how to deal with those isolating tendencies right alongside others who need the same support.

Continuing modes of group therapy in an official or unofficial setting is important for the recovery process, and should be a fluid transition after leaving residential treatment’s group therapy. Seeking out local meetings that revolve around these struggles, or even joining a community chat room where you can feel a sense of oneness when you are no longer in treatment are fantastic ways to gradually propel yourself into other ways of social interaction.

Other Ways to Maintain Socialization and Avoid Isolation After Treatment

There are many ways to keep fostering a more social lifestyle and to begin breaking isolating tendencies after you’ve exited treatment, and many of them can lead to engaging opportunities and even friendship. While in treatment, part of your continuing care plan could include lining up some of these activities for your return home, so that you can seamlessly transition while maintaining your progress.

Clubs, Hobbies, or Volunteering

Finding a local chapter or group that engages in an activity you’re interested in is a great first step to meeting people, and the best part is that you already know you have common ground. Many libraries have book clubs or circles that are engaging for readers of all ages, and oftentimes film nights that can foster discussion. Joining a local non-profit or volunteering for a worthy cause that you believe in can also be a great way to interact with others—not to mention the mental and emotional benefits of helping those in need. Soup kitchens, kennels, and environmental groups are great ways to carry on the essence of group therapy from treatment into the outside world.

Getting a Pet

Pet ownership has long been touted as a way to curb depression and other mental health disorders, and believe it or not, it is an excellent way to begin socializing with others. Owning a dog, for example, allows you to make a deep connection with an animal and use that as a springboard to connect with others who have similar compassion and attachments to animals. Dog parks, social dog-walking, and even puppy playgroups are great ways to not only keep your pet healthy, but allow for you to feel safe in your interactions with others, knowing that your dog will remain your best friend once you leave.

Staying Active

Exercise has also been proven to help people engage with not only others, but themselves. Challenging yourself physically can be rewarding on its own, but when you do it with other people, say in a running club, a recreational softball league, a hiking group, or a bouldering gym, you will be sharing in that sense of accomplishment and pride along with other people by simply doing something you enjoy. Exercise also widely reduces stress, which can help balance the hormones at play under the umbrella of depression.

There are so many ways to engage and interact beyond treatment and group therapy, and some of them can be scary at first—but the knowledge that you’re not alone is key to mustering the bravery to get out into the world and begin taking steps to healthily socializing with other people. Love and support from your friends and family (and pets) can be a great way to find the confidence to take those first steps, and with time, you will feel self-assured in your social interactions, keeping isolation and its attendant depression at bay.

Bridges to Recovery is a residential treatment program that provides hope and healing for all manner of mental illnesses, including depression and social anxiety. Group therapy is one of many effective treatments, and each treatment plan is custom-tailored to your needs. Reach out to us today to start your journey towards recovery.

Lead Image Source: Unsplash user Ben Duchac