Depression is a medical illness that affects the mind and body. Marital status can trigger depressive symptoms, especially if there is a sudden change, such as divorce or death of a spouse. Loneliness and depression have such similar symptoms, it can be difficult for single people to distinguish whether they are feeling the blues about being single or should see a doctor about treating depression.
According to the Centers of Disease Control, about 1 in 5 Americans suffer from depression or anxiety. Symptoms of depression include a feeling of sadness that lasts for weeks. Feelings of hopelessness, guilt, worthlessness, increased irritability and restlessness may also be experienced. Patients with depression report a loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed and difficulty concentrating or making decisions.
Depression can cause physical symptoms as well. Those with depression may experience insomnia, wake too early or sleep more than usual. Feelings of fatigue and lack of energy are common, along with changes in appetite. Some may feel chronic aches and pains, such as headaches or digestive problems.
Loneliness can present similar symptoms to depression, such as withdrawal, lack of motivation and sadness. It can be difficult to determine between the two. Loneliness is one of the main factors leading to depression. Someone suffering from depression who is not addressing the issue of loneliness may be in a never-ending cycle.
The loss of a spouse is one of the most difficult life experiences. The death of a spouse is second only to the death of a child. Divorce is similarly stressful, because it has a significant impact on life. Divorced or widowed persons may have smaller social networks and are more likely to suffer financial distress.
Depressive episodes are common after the death of a spouse and are often mistaken for bereavement. Divorced persons are also likely to feel the effects of the loss of a marriage partner and suffer anxiety, depression, anger, feelings of incompetence, rejection and loneliness.
Contact with others improves a sense of well-being and a satisfaction with life. Having social contacts can protect people from psychological distress.
Intimacy is a by-product of a social network, and can contribute to mental health, longevity and even intelligence. Those involved in a positive relationship are less affected by day-to-day problems and feel more in control of their lives.
Being married does not mean intimacy is achieved. Married persons can feel loneliness, with a lack of love, understanding and support from a spouse.
Depression often accompanies a sense of shame and hopelessness, but those feelings should not prevent someone from seeking medical help. Depression is a serious medical illness that needs to be treated by a doctor. Patients are treated with medication, psychotherapy or both, and often see an improvement within weeks of treatment.
Those suffering depression, especially from a loss of a spouse, may find help and important social contact in support groups. Being part of a support group, where you can share experiences with peers, has many benefits in making connections, improving coping skills, and restoring motivation and hope.
If loneliness is a source of your depression, you can take steps to overcome by finding social groups through a course, book club or a new hobby. Joining Toastmasters or an assertiveness training course can help overcome feelings of shyness. Volunteer work can also satisfy a need for social contacts in a non-threatening way.
It may also be beneficial to do a reality check on what you expect from others and yourself. Loneliness often accompanies a self-defeating pattern of high expectations that are unmet.