Relationships and Major Depression

A strong social network can help can help you manage your major depression.

Updated on April 13, 2022

mature happy women
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Social Isolation and Loneliness

At times, symptoms of major depression can make you feel so lonely. You're uneasy about socializing, so you limit contact with others, but being alone makes you feel more depressed and you withdraw further. In his book, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, Andrew Solomon writes, "Syndrome and symptom cause each other: loneliness is depressing, but depression also causes loneliness." A great way to disrupt this pattern is to have people in your life who you trust and feel comfortable being around.

two friends at lunch
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Your Social Network

Imagine that your depression social network is like taking shelter from a storm. And when it comes to these relationships, it's about quality, not quantity. You need one or two people you can call anytime, people who want the best for you (and vice versa). Author Andrew Solomon writes, "Recovery depends enormously on support. The depressives I've met who have done the best were cushioned with love. Nothing taught me more about the love of my father and my friends than my own depression."

couple holding hands
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Relationships Help with Depression

Based on his studies of how social life impacts health outcomes, psychologist Bert Uchino says having emotionally supportive relationships can help you think in ways that make problems seem less severe or, in some cases, help you see that problems are really non-problems. Says Uchino, "By having a secure relationship and feeling loved, people live much more secure, calm lives." This often has a ripple effect that can strengthen your sense of well-being, purpose, and meaning, and reduce anxiety, fear, and risk of substance abuse. 

talking to counselor
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Social Support from Many Sources

All relationships are different, and each one serves a different purpose in your life and in your depression recovery. Friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers provide social support on an informal and ongoing basis. But when you need more formal or structured support to help you get through depression symptoms or make progress in overcoming depression, you'll want to turn to members of your healthcare team—such as counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, clergy, or therapy or support groups.

friend support
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What Does Social Support Look Like?

Social support for major depression from friends, family, and your healthcare team can be practical and tangible, such as running an errand or making meals. Or it can be emotional, such as providing comfort, companionship, feedback, advice, and a sense of belonging as you work to overcome depression. According to Uchino, "Friends and supportive people can make life easier on a basic, everyday level. They may also help you indirectly by making you feel you have something to live for."

mature male friends skateboarding
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Relationships Boost Longevity

In one study, an analysis of 300,000 people revealed that having solid friendships gives you a 50 percent better chance of living longer than people who don't have good friends. Per RealAge calculations, a strong social network can make you up to 2.8 years younger by acting as a cushion against stress, taming inflammation, making your blood less likely to clot when you're tense, and lowering your risk of a heart attack.

man bottling up his feelings
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Stronger Relationships and Friendships

It's important to be open and honest as you keep building good relationships. Don't keep your feelings bottled up as this can lead to frustration, resentment and misunderstandings. Remember, talking through problems helps defuse them. Look for opportunities to express gratitude and say "Thank you " or "You mean a lot to me." Forgiveness, whether spoken or silent, can also help. Letting friends and family know they're important can help keep their support strong when you need support for depression or other life challenges.

senior man listening to his friend talk
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Communication and Your Relationships

For better communication, make a point to remember what's going on in your friends' lives and ask for updates. Be curious, ask questions; then listen and absorb, giving them your undivided attention. Maintain eye contact, talk about similar experiences you've had, and share details about your life. Pay attention to your friends' facial expressions, body language, and comments, too. Know that what you say or do affects your friend and your relationship. Taking these steps will help friends and family feel valued and help you connect.

friends volunteering
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Building Your Social Network

Form friendships with people who share your goals or interests. Here are two examples:

  • Find an exercise buddy. Take yoga classes, train for a walk or race, or do laps at the local mall. You'll get to know each other while you work out.
  • Volunteer your time. Hospitals, places of worship, community centers, and other groups often need help. You can form strong connections with other volunteers. And the benefits of helping other people adds to your well-being.
group therapy
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Therapy for Social Support

There may be times when you prefer to get social support in a more formal setting, such as a depression support group led by a therapist or counselor. Therapy or counseling can provide you with support for depression symptoms, as well as a safe place to share and receive feedback on depression-related challenges. The first step is to be honest with yourself and your healthcare provider (HCP) about how symptoms of depression are affecting your life. Together, you and your HCP can determine what else is needed for your treatment plan.

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