How To Live With Mental Illness And The Loneliness It Brings

I know how difficult it is to break the cycle of mental illness and loneliness. The key is learning how to cope and becoming unafraid to reach out to others.
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Having a mental illness can make it difficult to reach out to others when you’re feeling lonely, especially when it seems as if no one understands you.

I’ve been there myself, and I can relate to that struggle.

The truth is that many people struggle with the exact same feelings — we just don’t always wear them plainly on our faces.

The cycle of mental health and loneliness can be broken once we learn how to cope and we become unafraid to reach out to others.

The important thing to remember is this: You’re not alone. None of us are — not truly.

Living with mental illness is extremely isolating.

There are days when I don’t want to get out of bed and the thought of even getting up just to wash my face seems an impossible task.

It’s hard to describe to people who don’t live with a deep amount of pain inside of them every day.

How do you maintain friendships when all you ever want to do is cancel dinner plans or dodge birthday parties — including your own?

How do you keep a job when you can barely muster up the team spirit to finish a group project?

Or be close to your family when you worry about overloading them with your consistent sadness?

I’m lucky to have some great friends and family members who understand my struggles and don’t take it personally if I’m not up to hanging out.

But there have definitely been times when I felt like nobody really understood how I was feeling.

When you have a mental illness — of any kind — you’ll encounter folks who just do not understand how seriously it affects your life.

There’s always somebody who will tell you to “Just have a positive attitude!” like it’s that easy.

It is not.

This type of “advice” drives me nuts because as anyone who’s struggling with mental illness will tell you, it takes a hell of a lot more than a brisk walk or “thinking happy thoughts” to cure what ails you.

In fact, it’s that exact type of thinking that makes me shut down and not want to share how I’m really feeling.

That leaves me feeling worthless and ashamed.

It’s really difficult to muster the courage to talk to people about how I’m struggling.

So I isolate and suffer in silence — as do so many who are struggling with their mental health — and that is a very lonely feeling.

In this article, I’ll cover:

Editor’s Note: This article is part of our ongoing series The Roots Of Loneliness Project, the first-of-its-kind resource that comprehensively explores the phenomenon of loneliness and over 100 types that we might experience over the course of our lives.

What Is Mental Health Loneliness And Why Do So Many Struggle With It?

Mental health problems and loneliness practically go hand in hand, becoming a vicious cycle of negative thoughts and emotions.

It can easily motivate someone to isolate themselves from others.

Social isolation is a huge factor in loneliness among those struggling with their mental health.

This frequently leads to depression, and depression with other types of mental health problems generally leads to more social isolation and loneliness.

It’s a hard cycle to break.

Loneliness is not a mental illness, but can come about from a variety of common mental health conditions, including:

This is by no means an exhaustive list of mental health disorders that can result in feelings of loneliness — frankly, there are simply too many to count.

People with mental illness can find it difficult to make friends or maintain social and familial relationships with others due to feeling different.

Or they may feel unworthy of friendship or meaningful connection in general.

But if we want to combat mental health loneliness, social connections with others are crucial.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

I may not have always known what it was that I was dealing with, but now that I do, I’ve developed coping skills that make my daily life so much easier.

But even if you have coping skills to rely on, mental illness can make anyone feel incredibly lonely.

Mental health issues are tough to deal with on your own and for many of us, they’re something we largely face alone because it’s so hard to open up about them.

When I’m depressed or struggling with social anxiety, reaching out to someone and sharing my feelings can feel scary so I just keep it all to myself.

Isolating my feelings from others can easily lead me to isolate myself from them physically.

This is where loneliness really sets in.

At the same time, I’m far from alone in this struggle.

Many of my female friends have experienced loneliness due to their mental health, as well.

Once I realized this, I became a little less afraid to share what I was going through because I knew that people close to me were experiencing loneliness for similar reasons.

This study found that 80% of the population under the age of 18 and 40% of those 65 and older experience loneliness at least sometimes.

So with or without mental health issues in play, many people are dealing with loneliness.

At the same time, however, loneliness can have a negative impact on existing mental health issues.

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Why Loneliness Can Exacerbate Mental Health Struggles

One study found that among those who have faced a mental health crisis, greater amounts of loneliness were predictive of experiencing more severe psychological symptoms four months later.

According to another study, loneliness is a leading cause of depression in older adults.

The researchers noted that symptoms of depression increased among those who had greater amounts of loneliness, suggesting that loneliness leads to depression in the future.

Mental health loneliness is similar to chronic loneliness in that it can have a serious negative impact on your physical and mental health.

Mental illness carries a stigma that can make it harder to connect with others, which can result in a person feeling very alone.

This can be even worse for those who are living alone with mental illness.

As we’ve already discovered, loneliness can have a negative impact on your mental health, especially if you’ve been feeling lonely for an extended period.

Maintaining social connections can be extremely helpful when dealing with mental illness of any kind — but for many people, that’s easier said than done.

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How To Deal With Loneliness While Struggling With Your Mental Health

I’ll be honest with you: I have good days and bad days but the heaviness of depression never really goes away.

Even if I’m wearing a smile on my face and I “seem” perfectly happy on the outside.

Thankfully,  I have a few coping mechanisms that might help you shift your mindset so you aren’t stuck feeling alone.

And no — I won’t tell you to “think happy thoughts” because we both know that’s a bunch of bullshit.

But there are some things that can help.

  • Talk with friends or family members about how you’re feeling:

One of the best ways to fight mental health loneliness is to conquer that mental hurdle and reach out to someone when you’re feeling depressed.

If you’re struggling with that idea, I get it.

Like I talked about earlier, sometimes it’s just “easier” to keep your feelings to yourself.

And that’s exactly what so many of us do — myself included. But that doesn’t mean it’s healthy.

There ARE people who will understand what you’re going through and those are the ones to talk to — the folks who have either lived through it or at the very least, will offer no judgment or empty platitudes.

Whether you have family or friends close by or across the world, the best way to feel closer to other people is to pick up the phone.

If you’re not feeling up to talking, email or text are both excellent means of communication.

Sometimes it’s just easier to write your thoughts out, and doing so over text or email is a way to reach out in a low-stress environment — especially if you’re struggling with social anxiety right now.

Chances are high that the people in your life will be happy that you’ve reached out to them.

If you have no one in your life that you feel you can talk to, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has a 24/7 crisis text line available.

A counselor can be reached immediately by texting HOME to 741741 if you ever find yourself in a mental health emergency.

  • Look to your local community for like-minded people:

Loneliness can sometimes arise when you’re feeling insignificant and lack a sense of belonging.

Your local area may have community centers or specialized groups where you can find sports leagues, hobbyists, or classes that interest you.

These may be available for free or at a low cost.

Whether you’re into music, cooking, hiking, or crafting, you can meet a variety of people who share similar interests this way.

In my experience, it is much easier to encourage yourself to get out of the house and make friends when you know you’re going to be with like-minded people.

It takes some of the pressure off and that can make you feel more open to meeting and spending time with new folks.

  • Volunteer your time to improve your sense of self-worth:

Another way to feel connected to other people is to volunteer for local charities or a non-profit organization.

It can be really rewarding to help other people and focusing on someone (or something) else gets you out of your own head.

By volunteering, you will meet other people who are passionate about the same cause you are and it’s a proven fact that being generous leads to being more satisfied and much happier with your life.

Volunteering is a great way to help remedy your loneliness.

Not sure where to start?

Little Brothers Friends Of The Elderly and Meals On Wheels are both excellent organizations to get involved with, especially if you’d like to help seniors.

If you prefer animals to people, the Humane Society and Angels for Animals are always looking for volunteers.

  • Find companionship by adopting a pet:

Everybody needs a buddy.

Not only is companionship important to humans but animals need affection and interaction just as much.

Adopting a pet is an amazing way to alleviate loneliness and there are so many shelters out there that are filled with dogs and cats who are desperately waiting for a forever home.

If you can’t adopt a pet, volunteering at a local shelter is a great way to get your fill of love from an animal.

As I mentioned earlier, the Humane Society and Angels for Animals are always open to volunteers and that includes cuddling with kittens or walking dogs.

Just spending an hour a day walking a dog can provide a sense of companionship — for both of you — even if you can’t take it home afterward.

  • Practice healthy introspection to examine your feelings: 

Another option to combat feelings of isolation when you’re struggling with your mental health is to get in touch with your feelings.

You can start a journal and explore what you think might be holding you back from connecting with others, or just write out the things you’re feeling on any given day.

As I mentioned earlier, sometimes it’s easier to put your feelings into words on a written page and a journal can be a great way to practice introspection.

It also allows you to look back at the way you were feeling on certain days or after being in specific situations, which can help you to get in touch with the things you’re struggling with most.

They say that hindsight is 20/20 and a journal can provide you with a form of documentation that can be used for deeper self-discovery later.

If writing isn’t your thing, self-help workbooks, therapy, or meditation may work better for you.

  • Seek professional help — and understand that there is NO shame in doing so:

In the end, if you find that none of these coping mechanisms work for you, or you feel that you’re unable or unwilling to find solutions on your own, your loneliness may be a symptom of something more serious.

If you feel your mental health symptoms are more concerning or your loneliness is chronic, it’s a good idea to reach out to a professional therapist or doctor.

Little by little, the stigma associated with mental health care is melting away and more people are seeking the help they need from trained professionals.

If you broke your arm, you’d go to the doctor, right?

Treat your mental health with the same amount of urgency.

If you’re having trouble locating a professional in your area, the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) has a search tool for finding support by state.

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In Conclusion

Having a mental illness can make it difficult to reach out to others when you’re feeling lonely, especially when it seems as if no one understands you.

I’ve been there myself, and I can relate to that struggle.

The truth is that many people struggle with the exact same feelings — we just don’t always wear them plainly on our faces.

The cycle of mental health and loneliness can be broken once we learn how to cope and we become unafraid to reach out to others.

The important thing to remember is this: You’re not alone. None of us are — not truly.