Depression, loneliness and mental illness

What depression feels like
What depression feels like

In the wake of the most recent, horrific massacre in Las Vegas, it is long past time to talk openly and compassionately about depression, loneliness, and mental illness.

I’m an expert on depression, having lived with dysthymia, a chronic form of it, from the time I was 12 until I was 36 – too many years living in first gear instead of full throttle. Although I seemed to function, a black cloud hung over every aspect of my life affecting my self-esteem, relationships, academic performance, and ability to make a living. I was a walking dark cloud of negativity. Perhaps you know people like this.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that 25 million Americans suffer from depression and, since it is behind me, I feel that it is a service to share my experience and insight.

It pains me to remember who I was during those dark years. I was prone to despair, assumed that anything wrong must be my fault and that nothing would ever change. With determined effort, good therapy, two years of an anti-depressant, and a lot of help, I dug out of that dark hole.

I’m not religious and deeply skeptical of ALL religions but I realized that I wouldn’t have the peace and joy that I yearned for unless if forgave myself for being an unconscious jerk for many years. I rationalized that if Jesus can forgive anything, perhaps I could too. I created a mantra to override my conscious mind and my life-long negativity lifted.

I see many people, including some that I love, who are burdened by depression but unwilling to believe that another life is possible or to undertake the work to overcome it.

A close cousin of depression is loneliness that is rampant today. My experience with loneliness, when I was newly single needed to rebuild my social life, led to my painful cooties episode.

Former surgeon general, Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, writing in in the current issue of the Harvard Business Review, WORK AND THE LONELINESS EPIDEMIC wrote:

There is good reason to be concerned about social connection in our current world. Loneliness is a growing health epidemic. We live in the most technologically connected age in the history of civilization, yet rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s. Today, over 40% of adults in America report feeling lonely, and research suggests that the real number may well be higher. Additionally, the number of people who report having a close confidante in their lives has been declining over the past few decades. In the workplace, many employees — and half of CEOs — report feeling lonely in their roles.

Loneliness is not only bad for your health, it is a risk for suicide, once a taboo subject that is now common. The National Network of Depression Centers reports that suicide is the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 44.  42,773 people committed suicide in 2014.

My work is cut out for me. When I bought the domain New Community Vision 9 years ago, community building was my goal, even though I had no idea how to do that. Now I have a clear idea: partnering with congregations and community groups to create frequent opportunities for people to socialize casually. It is a work in progress but I’m getting closer.

New Community Vision seeks to partner with congregations and community groups to organize frequent occasions to socialize and meet others. Eventually, relationships will form, some may be close, while others may be respectful and functional - which is a blessing in itself.

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4 thoughts on “Depression, loneliness and mental illness

  1. Great article Terry. And a great revealing. I had no idea you were once a diagnosed depressive. kudos to you, for making it through that dark
    maze. So few have done that, so very few! You must write a book. What a story, one that would surely help those of all mindsets.

    And in view of the Puerto Rican hurricane hit, on TV yesterday, the news person reported a movement – called ‘adopt a Puerto Rican Family’ I instantly thought of you and your efforts in home sharing.

    All the Best,
    Warren A

  2. I just heard the Dr. Murthy interview on NPR (All Things Considered, or On Point), and he stated that loneliness is a public health issue; and it’s perhaps more critical than smoking or obesity. I heard this interview while feeling lonely on Sunday afternoon, and felt less alone. More power to you, Terry, for speaking out about this emotion.

  3. At least it is coming to light. Isn’t it curious that, although we – many, most? – feel lonely, at the same time we “think” others have this great social life.

    There is new research showing the high correlation between adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and suicide risk. The list of ACEs is so common, I wonder who hasn’t experienced them. I sure have. So much new research shows that we as a society are very challenged.

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