• Laura Hagen

Overcoming Depression and Isolation by Connecting to Your Community

Updated: Jan 30, 2020

One of the most challenging aspects of depression is the sense of isolation it can create. The low mood associated with depression and the loss of enjoyment in our favorite activities can cause us to retreat - once that happens, the aloneness feeds into itself. As social beings, the more disconnected from our communities we become, the more depressed we feel. Then, as we become more depressed, the harder it can be to maintain, rebuild, or create those connections. The cycle feeds into itself, creating a pattern of isolation that can be difficult to break.

It is important to work at it though, because the benefits of social connectedness in diminishing the symptoms of depression are well-documented across all age groups. In a study looking at clinically depressed people, it was found that membership in one or more social groups reduced the risk of relapse significantly in both the short- and long-term, and that a greater number of memberships produced an even greater reduction of risk (Cruwys et al., 2013). The great news is that this correlation wasn’t even about having close interpersonal ties, merely the fact of regularly being around other people with common interests. So simply getting out and getting involved on a consistent basis can provide benefits, lessening the pressure to immediately make lasting personal connections.

Specific types of social activities have also been shown to have mental health benefits. Small-scale studies looking at women with Major Depressive Disorder suggest that a gentle yoga practice, in particular, could lessen symptoms

So, we know that community connectedness is important, and that there are many excellent ways of achieving that connectedness, but where do we actually begin if we want to break the isolation/depression cycle? It can feel daunting, but there are numerous resources here in our St. Petersburg and Tampa Bay area to get us started.

Meetup.com is a great tool for finding like-minded people with similar interests. You begin by creating an account and profile, selecting as many areas of interest as you want. Meetup then recommends local groups based on your interests, and you can join as many or as few as you'd like to start with. Types of groups range from book clubs and athletic activities to arts-based hobbies and professional networks; they can even be as broad as gender- and age-based social groups with a wide range of activities on their calendars. Organizers in each group will have meetups posted that you can RSVP to - you'll be able to see who else is going, where to meet, and other event details before you decide whether or not to sign up. Some great Meetups to get you started include Mindful Ways to Wellness, which offers a variety of yoga and meditation classes and wellness workshops to get you started on a holistic approach to your mental health, and Happy Healthy Living St. Pete, featuring weekly meditation meetups (often followed by a meal), as well as other health and wellness-focused activities.

Don't feel like you have to go to everything all at once; overwhelming yourself can be counterproductive. Give yourself credit for each step you take, and don’t worry if you don't meet your new best friend at an event - even just a couple of hours of getting out there and trying is building positive momentum to counteract the cycle of isolation.

If Meetup doesn't turn out to be your style, there are still plenty of ways to get out and get connected in St. Petersburg. If you loved sports in school, and you miss the camaraderie of being on a team, Tampa Bay Sports Club could be a great way to meet people. They welcome individuals to sign up and are almost always able to add folks to existing teams, or even create new teams from solo sign-ups. They offer everything from the usual suspects like soccer, basketball, and volleyball, to non-traditional activities like bar games, kickball, and dodgeball tournaments. They also have three levels of competitiveness for most sports, not to mention one-day events like putt-putt golf. A sports league is a great way to meet new folks because you have the benefit of regular meetings with the same people - there's plenty of opportunity to build relationships. Committing to a full season can help you keep up your positive momentum, as well. Better still, the mental health benefits of exercise are well-documented.