We’re living in an age where loneliness and depression are so profound that they’re now considered a public health crisis in the U.S. In fact, the mortality impact of being socially disconnected is similar to that caused by smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity and physical inactivity. In response to this crisis, the Surgeon General’s Advisory has developed a National Strategy to Advance Social Connection. It’s difficult to imagine that we’ve gotten to a point where a government body feels they need to intervene in order to help people feel socially connected.
So it comes as no surprise that so many youths today are feeling isolated. As a parent, it can feel like climbing Mount Everest trying to help your child lead a happy, healthy life. It becomes even more complicated if your child doesn’t think there’s a problem and resorts to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as playing video games for hours on end, to feel better.
You want to help your child, but perhaps you’re not sure where to start. To provide you with some clarity, here are five potential reasons that could explain why your son is lonely and depressed:
- He has clinical depression.
- He isn’t going anywhere in life.
- He is addicted to the internet/video games.
- He feels unloved or unloveable, despite having loving parents.
- He feels alienated because he is not neurotypical (ADHD, Autism, etc.)
If your son is lonely and depressed, that can be because of clinical depression. Clinical depression is a malfunction of the brain. Typically, if your life is going well, and you have a good job, are in a relationship, and you have people in your life who care about you, and at the same time, you wake up every day, and you feel sad and empty, that is more consistent with clinical depression.
However, sometimes clinical depression can be caused by unfavorable circumstances. For example, if you lose your job, you can develop clinical depression triggered by that circumstance. Even if the circumstance gets fixed, i.e., you get a new job, then the depression persists because it has a lifecycle of its own. That person might have episodes of depression that are independent of their life circumstances. It becomes episodic.
If your son is lonely and depressed, then they may have clinical depression. Alternatively, they could be unhappy because their life isn’t going anywhere. In either case, we strongly recommend that you get them evaluated by a licensed mental health professional.
Living an Unfulfilling Life
The tricky thing is that not everyone who is depressed should be happy. In fact, many people who are depressed should be depressed. That might be a weird statement to hear but think about this. If someone gets stuck in life, doesn’t have a job, does not have fulfilling relationships, is socially isolated, it makes sense for them to be depressed. Their depression is an indication that their life is not what they want it to be.
Depression is our brain’s way of signaling to us that we have to fix something in our life.
- If we feel lonely, then that is a signal for us to reach out to someone.
- Dissatisfaction with ourselves helps us learn what our compass is, and we can use that to move forward.
- A lack of purpose pushes you to change and do something.
Addicted to the Internet/Video Games
One of the most common challenges that parents face nowadays is raising children addicted to video games, social media, and the internet. The internet is too big, too rich, and too addictive for the minds of children and teenagers. Moreover, video games are specially designed to be addictive.
Common wisdom states that video game addiction and internet addiction make a gamer isolated, angry, and depressed. That is not false – several studies have shown that video games are correlated with increased depression and anxiety. However, correlation does not necessarily imply causation.
Click here to read more about the relationship between video games and depression.
We also know through fMRI studies that video games suppress negative emotions. Therefore, when children get bullied, have unfavorable home circumstances, and lack friendships and community, they turn to video games to cope with negative emotions. Video games provide community, connection, challenge, and purpose to gamers who lack these aspects in their life. They are also very suited to children whose minds are fast, and the pace of school does not suit them.
However, when video games and the internet start to satisfy these needs on a surface level, your son will not get motivated enough to try to meet these needs in real life. Video games and the internet can only meet these needs on a surface level. Your son will probably feel a sense of emptiness. He may not realize it since children and teenagers often don’t know how to process their emotions, especially if they have developed alexithymia due to playing video games.
As a result, they try to numb these feelings with video games and the internet but still feel unfulfilled, lonely, and depressed.
If your son gets bullied in school, then it is possible that he feels socially isolated. Moreover, a complex home environment can also contribute to your child feeling isolated. Having someone to share their feelings with is essential, and if they do not have that, they can feel perpetually isolated.
Some children might feel unloved or unloveable even if they have loving parents. This is explained by a psychological concept called Attachment Theory. If children have an insecure attachment style, they are more likely to feel lonely in early childhood, as predicted in this study. Early childhood loneliness can set them up for further loneliness in life as they turn to other coping mechanisms and do not develop adequate social skills to engage in society.
Loneliness is also a significant risk factor for depression, so it is possible that if your child is chronically lonely, then they are at a higher risk of being depressed. That, in turn, can exacerbate their loneliness and worsen their depression. It is a vicious cycle. Moreover, loneliness can also result in children getting addicted to video games because they can find community without the fear of judgment when engaging with real-life people.
Alienation due to Neurodiversity
Neurodiversity refers to variation in the human brain in terms of learning, attention, mood, sociability, and other mental functions. It includes Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, etc.
Frequently, children who aren’t neurotypical feel alienated from their peers. Their brains work differently, and as a result, they interact with the world differently. Therefore, there is a distinct difference in the way their peers behave and the way they behave. Over time, as they grow up, this can result in them feeling alienated.
Often, children with ASD or ADHD are seen as “stupid” by their peers or even their teachers. However, that is not true. Their brain thrives in different environments, which means that the standard school environment isn’t always suited to them. However, due to how other people treat them, they feel lonely and turn to the internet and video games to find a community. Certain video games are ideally suited to the brains of an ADHD child, and other games are ideally suited to the mind of people with ASD.
Is Your Son Lonely and Depressed?
Ultimately, the most successful path forward to overcome depression is to get him evaluated by a licensed mental health professional.
However, there are other non-clinical aspects of your son being lonely and depressed that you can address. As a parent, you will have a relationship with your child that nobody else will. Therefore, there are some things you can do that nobody else can.
One of the most underrated aspects of helping your child live his best life is to have access to other parents who are non-judgmental and understanding of your situation. This is where HG Parent programs can help.
The first is Dr. K’s Guide to Parenting Gamers, which is a virtual curriculum that helps parents support their gamer children in a healthy way. Here’s what you'll get:
- 30 video chapters from Dr. K to guide you through the 3 modules: Understand, Communicate, and Act.
- 16 self-guided worksheets of actionable exercises to help you and your child understand video game addiction, get on the same team, and take action together.
- Practical Pre-written Conversation Starters to help start and guide difficult conversations with your child.
- A supportive online forum with parents who are going through the same challenges.
Or you can work 1-on-1 with an HG coach to move forward in a supportive environment. The coaching program includes:
- Lifetime access to all current and future content in the course
- 20 sessions with a Dr. K-certified HG Coach
- Weekly meetings to discuss progress and setbacks
- Dedicated time to practice communications skills and boundary setting