Social Isolation: A factor in depression

I grew up in a metro city in India. Growing up, I was used to crowd, people bumping into each other on street, cows on street, hearing honks of all kinds of vehicle from two wheeler to three wheeler, rickshaw, to taxis and buses. It was normal part of life.

Then, I moved to another country. People were very kind; I did not feel home sick. But, I noticed that they were lonely. As a health care professional, I came to find out that lot of people were on anti anxiety medications or medications for depression. I was explained that one does not get angry here, you talk it out and explain each other’s side. As a young, naïve person, I felt differently. I thought, being angry, laughing, crying is all part of emotions that need to be expressed appropriately. God or supernatural power created these emotions within us to express, as long as they are not used in abusive manner.

Anyways, life went on. I moved to another state, made lot of friends from India. I noticed that most of us formed groups to keep part of our culture alive. We celebrated every holiday. Sometimes Holi, Diwali celebrations went on for few weekends. It gave everyone reason to dress up, look forward to meeting people, eating food that brought us close to home.

Sometimes, I laughed at how everyone was trying to keep up traditions, which may or may not have much significance. There are some traditions that I do not believe in. However, in the mist of it all, I realized something. Something made total sense about Culture and people in India. At one point, there were joint families in India. One grew up not only with their siblings, but also with their cousins. You had inbuilt friends. Plus, the neighborhood kids. In school system, there were 50 -65 kids in one class, 5 such classes made up about 300 plus kids in a grade. Your choice was not limited to 5-10 people. So, there was no shortage of people.

From childhood, no extra emphasis was placed on please and thank you. Yet, one just got along with another without any problem. “Please” and “Thank you” were not as much as part of culture. I did not realize that until someone close in my circle of friends said no please, thank you needed. Don’t get me wrong. Good manners are definitely part of the culture; they were expressed as respect for elderly. Somehow, it was not like a chore.

When I explained someone that in most weddings 500-1000 people get invited. People in another country were baffled. Their expression was “We don’t even know 500 people, let alone invite them.” That is when, I realized that social life and all those gatherings, and traditions are the pulse of the culture.

Lately, everyone has noticed that Social media has created new problems. Bullying was a problem amongst young generation, and it has found a platform in Social Media. Even adults sometimes are doing childish activities like changing friendship status on Social media on purpose. It leads to hurt feelings.

All the above observations, led to a conclusion in my head. There is no shortage of people in India. At any given time, you have childhood friends, extended families. There is always a reason to celebrate something. I know very few people where I live presently. Still, at least 2 weekends out of a month, there is an invitation for dinner or birthday party or some celebration. Imagine, in India, when you know a lot of people, there may be 2-3 invitations in a day during wedding season, during holidays. Even if, you do not get along with someone, there are plenty of people in your life that you almost never feel lonely.

We travel a lot as a family. It is nice to take time to go places and explore. But, when there are friends or family with us on vacation or if we are meeting someone on our way to vacation destination, it just changes the mood.

Culture, colors, dressing up for the occasion, looking forward to meeting a cousin or a friend, just brightens up the outlook on life.

I remember, hearing from someone that even if a relative or a friend is in the hospital, people gather around and visit with their lunch packed up. One important ingredient to happy life is having people in your life. Mental illness due to chemical imbalances and other factors may not have any impact from having a Social life. But, anxiety and depression from loneliness can definitely reduce when you feel supported.

Whenever, something bad happens to me, I have a tendency to call all my friends and family nearby. My husband gets upset about the fact that I like to gather the whole town. He says, they are not going to make it right for you. My response is “I don’t need them to make it all right for me. I just need the support so I am not alone.” I like the song, “You are not alone, I am here with you.” There is one thing I am greedy about is people and their company.

A huge benefit of having culture and any reason to celebrate and get to gather is less Social isolation. People may remember all the glamor and glitter of a party for a short while. But, simply going out for ice cream with a cousin in summer vacation, or just hanging out at local park or any simple but heart touching memory will bring a smile on your face anytime.

I hear that in India: Holi, Diwali is not celebrated like it used to be 20-30 years ago. During Diwali, people take vacations instead of staying home. But, just like any other thing, all these traditions are so imbibed in the whole Society that socialization will not die down in India. At least, that is my hope.

Growing up, I hardly met anyone who had panic attacks or anxiety or depression. Even in poverty, there were glimpses of happiness. There are flaws in every Society. Indian culture also has some flaws. But Social life is an asset of India.

Social isolation can cost a country a lot in healthcare expenses. So keep up the social gathering and continue to invite friends and family over for any little or big reason. Food, fun and friends can keep mental illness away. It is good for health.


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