How can a mental health problem lead to loneliness?
There are many different reasons that having a mental health problem can make you feel lonely. Your mental health problem may affect the way you see yourself or you may feel lonely because of 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 part of your mental health problem, or it may result from stigma or discrimination you have experienced because of your mental health. You may not feel confident that people want to have social contact with you, or you may feel that people don’t understand you or see you as different or strange. This could lead you to avoid social contact and isolate yourself, making you increasingly lonely.
If you have a condition such as anxiety or a phobia, you may find social contact or leaving the house difficult. As a result, you may become socially isolated, leading to feelings of loneliness.
Medication that you take for your condition can affect the way you see yourself. It may have changed your appearance or the way you communicate. You may have lost or put on weight, or your medication may make you feel drowsy. Some medication can cause shaking or slurred speech and you may worry that other people will make incorrect judgements about you. Or you may have to avoid drinking alcohol and find it difficult to admit this to your friends. All of this can have an impact on how confident you feel about meeting people socially, and cause you to withdraw from social contact.
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 they see as different. You may have found that your friends stopped keeping in contact with you when they found out about your mental health problems or that the way they reacted made you question your friendships. This may mean you become less willing to trust other people, and you may start to avoid social contact with others.
‘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 you or what to say when you are unwell, perhaps because they don’t understand your condition or because they are worried that they might make you feel worse. For example, if you were feeling suicidal, your friends may have been afraid that anything they said might have encouraged you to attempt suicide. This can make you feel that nobody understands you, and make you feel isolated and lonely.
Sometimes your mental health problems can affect the way you interact with people or cause you to behave in a way that other people find difficult. For example, your condition may mean that at times you lack inhibitions or you may find it hard to care for your appearance. You may have behaved angrily or aggressively during a period of mental ill-health, or falsely accused a friend of something, causing them distress. This could mean that it is sometimes 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 condition and the way it can affect you.