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People who struggle with mental health issues are perhaps the most isolated social group. Depression can cause people to isolate themselves. Also, isolation is common among those with bipolar disorder. A person can isolate themselves from others; or worse, the society inflicts isolation on the person with mental illness.
It can be very common for people with depression and anxiety to come up with petty excuses to avoid social contacts. For instance, if asked if they like to go out, they may reply with ‘I have stuff to do’. When they are asked about what this ‘stuff’ is, they will reply with comments such as, ‘just stuff’. They will be very vague about what this ‘stuff’ is.
Unfortunately, it is also common for people to simply accept such an excuse, and most probably they will say, ‘They are always like this and always say that’. This is a shame as they have accepted this person as an ‘outcast’. Unknown to most people, situations like this puts a tremendous effect for people with mental illness.
Someone who is suffering with anxiety and depression is already thinking that they are the ‘outcast’ and that they don’t belong in these social groups. Their behaviour is evident of this; they will do what they can to avoid social situations, which they perceive as uncomfortable and likely to increase their anxiety or possibly their depression. When the ‘group’ have accepted their excuse for not wanting to join in, this is then seen as evidence that they are not good to be a part of that group, and they are not being accepted by the group. This is self-fulfilling prophecy in action.
What is actually happening here is that those around the person suffering with depression and anxiety, don’t fully understand their issues – which is of course not their fault, because they are none the wiser about what is going on with that person.
They may say, ‘They are always doing this…’ and thinking, ‘Well it is unusual…’ and may start to ask the person if they are OK. But this too, is unlikely to amount to anything, as the most likely response they are likely to get will be, ‘Yeah, I’m fine. Nothing’s up’. Unless the person is relentless and not willing to just accept that as answer, they could learn more about the issues the person is struggling with. Additionally, this will bear reinforcement effect on the person suffering with anxiety and depression. They will feel that no one cares, and everyone seems to be accepting excuses and are not willing to try to help them.
This can potentially be the start of a downward spiral, no matter what happens their thoughts are being reinforced by the behaviour of their peers, and social groups. This will reinforce the thoughts that they don’t belong in that social group, and no one cares about them. They can start to feel alone in a world full of friends and family. This too begins a further downward spiral of depression and seclusion from the world and not just to social events. Unless others around them notice these signs, they start to go unnoticed and not thought about. This can lead to a worst case scenario of the person having suicidal thoughts, and possibly attempting to act out these thoughts. These can be done for one of two reasons, they are now that low and they no longer feel good enough or worth anything to be on Earth. They also crave for attention, and they don’t know how to get the help they want.
The excuse, ‘I have stuff to do’ can potentially lead a vulnerable person to a point where they may commit suicide. I feel that this can be due to the lack of knowledge with regards to the telltale signs of depression. If these signs are picked up early enough something can be done to start helping that person. For instance, if someone had started to notice ‘It’s what they always do’, and shown some perseverance, and also reassurance they are there for that person, they may start to get to the issue.
An individual struggling with depression wants someone whom they can trust and talk to, and not feel judged about their situation. Someone showing perseverance will start to build relationship with that individual and start to give them feeling of belonging again and that they are a part of the group.
It is true that people dealing with depression and isolation can reach out for help since there are charities and helplines. But more importantly, it is up to the loved ones to take the initiative. At minimum, they can provide an environment where the individual can fully express themselves why they they avoid socialising. Needles to say. not having to make up another excuse can be very liberating on its own.
Dale Burden is a correspondent for Psychreg. He holds a dual honours degree in Psychology and Neuroscience from Keele University.
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