Connecting with othersIt is much easier for depression to take over when you are isolated and out of touch with others. Building relationships and support networks has been shown to offer significant help against depression.
Social contact is vital
Human beings are social animals. Human contact and connection are as essential to our survival and wellbeing as other basics like food and shelter. Depression thrives in the vacuum created when we are isolated and lonely and also tends to encourage isolation and withdrawal from social contact.
It is not only frequency of social contact that is important – the quality of the connection you make is important too. Improving both the frequency and the quality of your social contact can make an enormous difference to how you feel.
Even very small changes in the quality of your social contact can help shift the sense of isolation that depression brings, helping you to feel a little more connected with others – smiling at the bus driver as you show your ticket, or exchanging a few pleasantries with the librarian as you take out some library books.
Make the effort to connect
It can be very difficult to motivate yourself to connect with others if you expect yourself to keep up a ‘front’ that everything is okay. However, it is not necessary to tell everybody about your depression either. Any relaxed social connection is protective against depression.
Sometimes it is easier to get support from new people – check out your student union welfare office for what they offer directly in the way of support, but also to find out what activities and societies are available. It may feel easier to let go of some of your concerns when you’re in a new environment and amongst people who don’t know you very well. Treat it as an experiment – there is nothing to lose if it doesn’t work out.
Challenge unhelpful thinking
Perhaps unhelpful attitudes are keeping you isolated. Do any of the following sound familiar?
- “I can’t let anyone see how I really feel, because no one will want to know me anymore/I’ll be a burden/people will let me down”
- “No one really likes me anyway, so what’s the point?”
- “People see me as a cheerful/strong/competent person and they won’t cope/I can’t bear it if they see that I’m not like that really”
Spot the excellent examples of depressed thinking: all-or-nothing thinking, perfectionism, self-bullying, disappointment insurance and over-personalisation! (See ‘How depression works’ for more on depressed thinking). Practise a kinder, more realistic perspective – imagine what a good friend or ‘guardian angel’ might suggest you say instead:
- “Most people would like to do what they can to support someone who isn’t feeling great, and my friends/family can tell me if and when they need a break.”
- “There will always be some people who are more compatible as friends than others, so I need to think about who I feel most comfortable with and develop those friendships, instead of expecting to be liked by everybody.”
- “Relationships and friendships are much more meaningful when they allow more than just the surface self to be shown.”
- “I can’t expect my friends/family to be the perfect source of support, but I can help them give me some of what I need.”
See the ‘Changing attitudes’ section for more ideas about how to identify and challenge unhelpful thinking habits and replace them with self-compassion. This next section looks in more detail at the longer-term strategies which help build ongoing resistance to depression – changing the attitudes and patterns of thinking which contribute to stress, anxiety and depression.