Why Depression Makes it Hard to Be Around People

Why depression makes it hard to be around people: image of a person surround by a crowd

Mental illness can make it hard to be around people for a few different reasons. One of the common ones is social phobia, but it’s not the only reason.

Social phobia, also known as social anxiety disorder, can be a crippling condition that makes it extremely difficult to be around people. It affects around 13% of the population at some point during their lifetime. A key element of the condition is a fear of doing something that will result in humiliation. You can read more in this post about cognitive biases that feed into social anxiety.

That’s not me. Yet my depression makes it very hard to be around people. I’ve always found it hard to describe why that is, but I thought I’d give it a try in this post.

There are a few key factors that keep me from getting anxious in social situations. One is that, at least overall, my self-esteem has always been reasonably good. Another is that I recognize that I’m an introvert and am very comfortable with that aspect of my personality. Then there’s the fact that I just don’t particularly like people, so I don’t usually care what they think of me unless they have the power to make my life difficult.

When I’m depressed, there are a number of factors that can make it hard to be around people.

Slow brain

When I’m slow cognitively, it can be difficult to come up with responses, particularly if it’s a question that I’m not expecting. A little while back I was at the liquor store buying some rum. I expected the question about whether or not I wanted a bag, so that wasn’t difficult. Then the cashier asked if I was getting it to make rum and Coke. That was unexpected, so there was a considerable delay before I could come up with rum and eggnog as an answer.

Difficulty masking

Depending on how I’m doing with my depression, I may try to mask for the purpose of not appearing rude. Zero eye contact, flat affect (lack of facial expression of emotion), and silence tend to be considered rude. I prefer not to be rude, so I mask to some extent. I don’t mask to the point of trying to look “normal”, but still, it’s very tiring.

When I’m around my family I don’t mask. That doesn’t work out so well, though, because it translates to a lot of one-sided conversations – them talking, and me not even pretending to be interested in what they’re saying.

Back when I had a group of in-person friends, at times when I wasn’t well, it felt like they were on a whole different planet from me, and I had nothing at all in common with them.


The common factor, though, is that being around people when I’m depressed feels very heavy. The longer it lasts, the more exhausted I feel. Because I’m so introverted and am very content in my own company, there’s not a lot of incentive to put in the effort to be around people despite the heaviness. Connecting with others shouldn’t have to feel so hard.

Since originally writing this I was talking to my friends from We DID It about this subject, and came up with the explanation that when I get really isolative, it feels like I have a sunburn, and being around people is like being exposed to radiation that makes the burn hurt more. When I’m alone, it’s far more comfortable – a break from the pain.

Do you struggle to be around people? What makes it difficult?

book cover: Managing the Depression Puzzle, 2nd Edition, by Ashley L. Peterson

Managing the Depression Puzzle takes a holistic look at the different potential pieces that might fit into your unique depression puzzle.

It’s available on Amazon and Google Play.

46 thoughts on “Why Depression Makes it Hard to Be Around People”

    1. I don’t know if I would call it social anxiety, but in my depressive episodes, I’m like afraid of people. Crowds scare me, I try to avoid them at all costs. I’m afraid to be with more than about 3 ppl, and they have to know me. Otherwise I feel like the scarlet letter, and ppl will judge me. It forces me to hibernate at home, which only makes it worse. I hate this feelung. I used to be a very outgoung, extroverted person, I’m now very much an introvert..

  1. Adapting, masking to a degree, follow a conversation, … social interaction takes a lot of energy. The more I adapt, the more I’m tired.
    When stress is very high, I burst into tears or laugh when things are not that funny. That is usually in groups. Which can be annoying because it makes me look weird and actually I’m not that weird.
    One on one is much easier for me, although it also takes energy when it is a longer interaction.
    People don’t come with a mute button, which would be the answer to my problems!
    Do you find social interaction on social media draining too or is it only irl?

    1. I’m very much stronger on social media and anything that doesn’t involve one-on-one conversations with strangers or groups for long. I generally find it easier to communicate by written words

  2. I can totally relate. Many times I would rather not be around people, although there are times when I wish I had people around me to reassure me when I am anxious. I work outside of the home and it’s a lot of work to fake it like I want to be here with all of them, when I am really just trying to get by as I have so many thoughts going through my head. Good read. I’d like to share it on my page.

  3. Self-knowledge seems like the most useful knowledge. Is it one of those “intelligences” you wrote about?

    It was neat to see our name. We are friends! Hooray!! 🥰❤️💕

  4. I have people issues, but they are different to yours. I’m not anxious about small talk or saying something dumb or anything like that. I just don’t care and I can do small talk perfectly well. I even enjoy silliness and jokes. Love board games with people. The problem for me is noise level. If we’re at a restaurant or in someone’s house and it gets too loud, I start shutting down. I can’t think. My reaction time slows. I get so angry and upset I often have to leave. My ears buzz and I begin to hyperventilate until I can find a quiet place to calm down, usually my car. If I don’t take action and get out while I can still move, I feel my head will literally implode. It’s so awful. Last weekend I was sure this would happen, so I didn’t go out at all Friday night through Monday morning.

  5. I’m with Paula – noise sends me around the bend and makes me jittery and anxious, couple that with claustrophobia and whee-oo, makes being out in the world difficult at times and yet…I prefer cities, I feed off the energy around me but let it get too loud or the people too close, well, it just gets ugly. Oddly enough it’s only the sound of people that disturbs me, cars, trains,planes,traffic – while not exactly soothing seems more comfortable than human voices and human sounds.

  6. Great post, thank you for sharing your experience! I really like your sunburn metaphor. I find it hard to be around people mostly due to social anxiety, but when I am depressed I get SO FATIGUED (and yes – it is so tiring to mask!!)

  7. I have difficulty being around people in direct proportion to the number of them. One to one is usually not so bad unless the person doesn’t want to let me go. But the more people in the room, the more anxious I become, and the more I want to be alone. It’s definitely social anxiety for me (not depression.) Over the years I’ve developed a “social facade” that usually gets me by — for a while. After a time, it wears thin, and I can’t think of what to say or do. I am usually one of the first people to want to leave a party, and go off by myself to be alone.

      1. I’m taking a break from blogging but wanted to reply to this. There are times when I enter a large social gathering and within ten SECONDS my anxiety is so high, I do an about-face and leave the building. Thanks for understanding.

  8. I’ve social anxiety and AvPD, so I relate a lot. While my *offline* social anxiety has lessened due to having safe, accepting, non judgmental friends, my *online* social anxiety still remains a key part of it still remains due fear of judgment, of humiliation etc. Gaming communities can be very toxic and the only reason I’m *myself* here on WordPress is because I haven’t had any trolls yet, just kind people like you.

    1. That doesn’t surprise me that gaming communities can be problematic. I’ve also had very positive experiences onm WordPress, and it’s actually rather fascinating that this is one platform that trolls don’t have much of a presence.

  9. I can relate to you very much. I’ve masked myself even in front of the family, but I do have some friends (which I pushed away for a while, but that’s another story), where I can really be me. Sometimes I really don’t understand why our brains tend to overcomplicate our lives. I mean, I do understand, I just don’t have the energy to work with them. They’re like a little child inside a grown up’s body, this is how I see them.

  10. I have always worked in service style rolls customers, patients, clients, and have never been unable to chat, and be involved. I dont find it difficult when I am feeling OK. to strike up conversations with other people, and I seem to give off some vibe that says come sit with me as I often will have someone come and sit with me and share problems. I guess having been a RN and worked as a mental health RN I automatically can do it.

    In saying that since my breakdown and working with my psychologist, I am naturally an introvert. I enjoy being on my own. So as many of you have said it is an effort to go out, but I have to shop and I do need to have some social interactions (all at relatively superficial levels). I don’t pretend or mask now. I will say sorry I am having trouble following what you are saying it is part of my mental illness. I have CPTSD. I do not enjoy noises base and reverberations are my problem, I also find perfumes and some scented things make me feel nauseous. I can not be in shopping malls, well I can but I am in and out and exhausted over stimulated and just blah.

    I even find where I live is often to noisy for me, and I live out of town.

    I am a good actress, my psychologist believes that is how I have managed to cope in the world I worked in. It was easier when I was younger, and before my breakdown (I did have depression and anxiety issues ) now for me I manage my illness and my social interactions well. I have to shop so I go out and spend several hours out. I am fortunate that the towns I shop in are small rural towns, and I manage. People seeing me would have no idea that when I get home I crash, and just sit, on my deck if its quiet or watch mindless rubbish on TV.

    I even acted with my GP(when I had to find a new one last year) who questioned my psychologist about why I needed to be on the Disability support pension. It helped we had met professionally a few years before. I knew enough to mask it all. So the next time I was totally honest and she understood.

    I too find this sort of thing so much easier especially now my brain is working and I can find words. Thanks to medication finally helping somewhat.

  11. Thank you so much for this post! I don’t deal with these anxieties but I have a close family member that does and I’m making an effort to understand him better. I used to think he was just shy but I’ve seen him get physically sick with the thought of having to be around people and at that point I realized that it was deeper than an introverted personality. This has shed a lot of light on my understanding and I truly appreciate your honesty and detailed descriptions of your feelings. I’m hopeful that one day Jehovah God will heal all of us of all disorders, both physical and mental (Isaiah 33:24; Revelation 21:3,4). Until then, please continue to educate us so we all understand better to help and encourage one another.

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