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How would you describe the difference between clinical depression and loneliness?

Clinical depression is a medical term with specific criteria for diagnosis as per the ICD-10/DSM 5 medical codes.
Loneliness can often lead to clinical depression. 

Is it possible to feel lonely, even if you’re in a relationship or you have an active social life?

Prominent psychiatrist, Dr Carl Jung said “loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself, or from holding certain views which others find inadmissible.”

Often, people feel the loneliest when they are in a relationship than when they are not. To be with another person but feel like you cannot relate to that person, or that you are not ‘seen’ by the other person can be more difficult then being alone. 

Being alone is not the same thing as being lonely. You can also have an active social life and feel lonely. Many times, people have a minimal social life and still feel fulfilled. 

What steps should you take if you think you’re suffering from chronic loneliness?

1. Find someone you can talk to openly 

This could be a support group, a therapist, one close friend or colleague. Having even one person can change your state.

2. Reflect on roadblocks 

What is it that you are doing that is perpetuating the loneliness? Are you afraid of being vulnerable? Do you have time to invest in meaningful relationships? Are you going out and actually making an effort to meet new people? Are you taking risks and sharing your true self with those you are close to? Do you have people in your life that you feel you can trust — if not, why? 

3. Skill set

You may be shy by nature or not good in big social settings. You may need to learn some skills on how to handle yourself in social settings —be it managing social anxiety, or making small talk — these are all skills we can learn with the right psychologist or coach. 

4. Set goals 

Naming a feeling and wanting to change it is not enough. Setting SMART (Specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely) goals is very important in changing your life state. Goals like “I will attend one work event a month”, or “I will join one group class or activity a week” will be a good place to start. Be sure of the fact that you have included these goals into your calendar and then follow through. 

5. Join a class 

Being around individuals with similar hobbies and interests of yours can create the right context for you to meet people that you might connect to.

6. It’s not about the numbers 

Going out and getting a long list of people you know may actually make you feel lonelier. Focus on cultivating deep and meaningful relationships — which takes investment of time and energy.

7. You are not alone 

Feeling lonely is more common then you can imagine. There are others who are also struggling with the same issues — take a risk and reach out to those you feel you have an initial connection to and cultivate that relationship. 

8. Be alone 

You have to find ways to be comfortable being alone. What thoughts or emotions come up when you are alone? Understand yourself and be comfortable with yourself and you will attract the right people into your life.  If you are operating from a place of fear (of being alone), you are less likely to connect with others. 

9. Reframe 

Instead of seeing this time that you are alone as being a cause and context for loneliness, you can choose to see it as time that you spend investing in yourself. Reading books that have been on your reading list, decluttering your home, taking the language class you have always wanted to take can all be done in ‘alone’ time. 

10. Get help 

Social anxiety/clinical depression are clinical issues and can be worked through with a trained professional. 

How common is the problem here in the UAE, where people are often separated from their immediate family?

I have seen all types of issues with regards to loneliness in the UAE and it isn’t always because these individuals were separated from their families. If a person feels attached to their family and they are no longer around them, they will feel a void. But there are those who feel that they could only truly be themselves when they were no longer around the family. 

What are the health implications of loneliness?

Some research states that the stress caused by loneliness is worse for your body than smoking or obesity. Loneliness can lead to chronic illness such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Studies show people who suffer from loneliness are 50 per cent more likely to die prematurely then those who have a good social network. Loneliness also impacts your mental health. Depression, anxiety and sleep disorders can all be a result of loneliness.