Loneliness and mental illness can often occur together. Does the mental illness cause the loneliness? Or can loneliness and isolation cause mental illness?
There are studies that suggest the loneliness and isolation can cause depression, anxiety disorders and even dementia. But for this post I want to leave the studies and references to those studies aside. We can do that another day.
If someone becomes depressed they tend to self isolate. People that are stricken by grief or loss sometimes just don’t feel enough energy or desire to interact socially.
For short periods of time, this can be a normal reaction, particularly for an introverted person. But long term isolation has detrimental effects on mental health.
Anxiety disorders also can cause people to self isolate. Without any support or interaction with people, a person with severe anxiety can develop other disorders like agoraphobia or even hoarding.
Long term isolation cuts off the human connection that people need. This can bring up the fight or flight mechanism, because the brain may perceive extreme isolation as dangerous. Being cut off from community and basically cut off from the protection of the herd, is something that the brain may perceive as life threatening.
The reptilian brain is all about the primal urges and protection for survival. If the reptilian brain feels that the basic survival needs are not being met, then a message may be sent to the limbic system to feel the threat in the body.
The amygdala is the part of the brain that controls the fight or flight chemicals. Cortisol and adrenaline are sent into the system when a threat of danger is perceived.
If we become overloaded by cortisol for extended periods of time on a regular basis, it can create harm to the body and the brain. I will get into this more in another post.
The important thing is that these chemicals make the nervous system feel terrible. The person can hyperventilate, have heart palpitations and feel painful, uncomfortable sensations throughout the body.
We were designed to exist in a state of fight or flight mode. This is PTSD or it can be C-PTSD. In the case of on-going experiences of feeling in danger, over many months or years, it is complex post traumatic stress disorder that occurs.
There may be feelings of extreme fear of abandonment upon meeting new people. There may be severe social anxiety from this or from feeling inadequate to interact with people.
Some of the trauma may be rooted in early childhood experiences of abandonment or rejection. Child abuse of any kind, including emotional abuse, can cause fear of abandonment and fear of being isolated from others.
The issue of loneliness and how serious it can be seems to be taboo to discuss. People do not like to say they feel lonely because it makes them fear they will be rejected for admitting this. Then they will just reinforce their problem by making people reject them.
So there can feel like there is no way out. Someone feels depressed or lonely to begin with. Then the depression results in pathological loneliness. Or the toxic lineliness results in chronic depression.
The anxiety naturally goes along side all of this, and turns into C-PTSD or it opens old childhood trauma which had already caused C-PTSD. The person may not even know they had old wounds to open, but the emotional flashbacks to rejection and fear of abandonment are happening.
Suicidal thoughts, self harm and self medicating can occur as a result of this snowball effect. What started the process may never be known. The person just feels isolated and afraid to live this way.
The stigma of mental illness makes all of this worse. Many people are afraid to seek treatment. They are afraid to even tell anyone how they feel. They do not think anyone will understand.
Once someone starts to become isolated from other people, it can be hard to get out of. They will still feel isolated in a room full of people, because they feel that they are too different to fit in.
The issue of loneliness should not be taboo to talk about. It causes suffering for many people with mental illness, and most likely is one of the roots of mental illness to begin with.
It is when someone feels that others do not understand them, that they feel inadequate or just too different to be accepted. Everyone needs human touch and emotional intimacy of some kind.
This issue of loneliness needs to have less stigma, just like the issue of mental illness needs to have less stigma. There needs to be more awareness so that people do not isolate themselves emotionally to the point that they see no value in living.
Being in emotional and mental pain every day, on a regular, constant basis diminishes quality of life. It makes people feel hopeless and worthless.
Mental illness is painful, and so is the feeling that no one can understand and accept you.
The worst thing is believing there may be no end to the suffering. That is when people lose hope. No one wants to live with neverending suffering.