How can a mental health problem lead to loneliness?
There are many different reasons why having a mental health problem can make you feel lonely. Your mental health problem may affect the way you see yourself or how other people see you.
How you see yourself
Mental health problems can often lead to low self-esteem and a poor self-image. This may be directly because of your mental health problem, or it may be because of the stigma or discrimination you experience as a result of your mental health problem. You may feel insecure in your social interactions with others; you may feel that people don’t understand you; or you may feel that people see you as different, strange, or unlikeable. This could lead you to avoid social contact and isolate yourself, making you even lonelier.
If you have a mental health problem such as an anxiety disorder or a phobia, you may find social contact or even leaving the house difficult. As a result, you may become socially isolated, leading to increased feelings of loneliness.
Medication that you take for your mental health problem can also affect the way you see yourself. Some medications can change your appearance or the way you communicate. You may have lost or gained weight, or you may constantly feel drowsy or fatigued. Other medications can cause shaking or slurred speech, and you may worry that other people will make negative assumptions about you as a result. Other medications may require you to avoid drinking alcohol, and you may find it difficult to admit this to your friends. All of this may have an negative impact on your ability to socialise, and cause you to isolate yourself and thereby increase your feelings of loneliness.
How other people see you
If you have a mental health problem, you may find that some people are reluctant to engage with you because of the prejudice they feel towards people with a mental health problem. You may notice that some of your friends stopped keeping in contact with you when they found out about your mental health problems, or some of your friends reacted in or began behaving in suspicious, questionable ways. This may cause you to become less trusting of other people, and you may start to avoid socialising with others to avoid potential social rejection.
‘Once I was told people don’t want to be around me as I depress them, so I became somewhat [of ] a recluse.’
You may also find that people don’t know how to react to your mental health problem or what to say when you are unwell, perhaps because they don’t understand your mental health problem or because they are worried that they might make you feel worse. For example, if you express that you are feeling suicidal, your friends may become afraid that anything they say may have encourage you to attempt suicide. As a result, they reduce their social interactions with you; it is not necessarily malicious or mean, and may be out of good intentions. Nevertheless, this can make you feel that nobody understands you, and worsen your feelings of loneliness.
Your mental health problems may also affect the way you interact with people, or cause you to behave in a way that other people find difficult to tolerate. For example, your mental health problem may cause you to, at times, lose your inhibitions and act aggressively towards those around you, causing them distress. This could make it difficult to make friends or maintain existing relationships.
In these situations, it may be worth trying to have an open conversation with your friends so that they understand more about your mental health problem and the way it affects you.