The innocuous sounding word ‘depression’ refers to a potentially disabling illness that affects many but is understood by few. Sufferers often do not realize the nature of their terrible malaise until they are so devastated that they can no longer help themselves, or they may recognize what they have been through only after they are on their way out of the shadows. Eventually, depressed people lock themselves in an invisible cage which isolates them from the own lives and happiness. Depression is a sneak thief, slipping into a life gradually and stealing its worth, one loss at a time.
The losses are imperceptible at first, but eventually weigh so heavily that the person’s life becomes empty. Once begun, the impacts of depression vary with different individuals and with the severity of the illness. If depression is left untreated, it can last for months, and even years. Psychologists have been working restlessly since earliest times to discover the nature and the causes of the depressive illness that tremendously changes a person’s mentality and behavior.
They discovered that depression is a discrepancy between one’s desired and achieved levels of social contact and interaction. This paper aims to expose how social interaction and interpersonal relationship can be the underlying causes of mental depression in order to make people more aware of the danger of social skills deficit in today’s society. According to Ainsworth (2000), there are different theories that explain the cause of depression from ancient to present times, including fiction and non-fiction.
In the Hindu texts, gods personifying good and evil warred with one another and victimized individual humans. In texts from Babylonia and Egypt, gods punished transgressions in the hearts of people and placed on them the depressive curse. The early Hebrew texts allude to the belief that depression in humans reflects the displeasure of Yahweh. During the Middle Ages, as in all ages, many people turned to supernatural explanations for mental illness.
Depression became God’s punishment for sinners or the natural condition of souls under the control of the devil. This was the age of witch hunts, when many unfortunate women and some men were accused of being in league with Satan and severely punished for the sin of mental illness, including depression. When technology has not been invented and researches have not been made, most of the people believed that depression was a punishment from god and associated with sin and cruelty. Beginning in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, physicians became interested in the human body and the human mind in order to find the origin of depression. Western scientists such as Emil Kraepelin developed detailed, sophisticated systems for the clarification of depression based on observations of characteristic symptoms and the course of the illnesses.
With the help of modern technology and constant effort of scientists, the origin of depression was found and explained using two categories, interpersonal and social rhythm. Firstly, interpersonal theory is believed by Harry Stack Sullivan to be adaptable with and adds to socio-historical psychology an account of the origins and consequences of anxiety and the anxiety system (Bazerman, 2001, p. 174). In terms of definition, the theory explains the connection between mood and personal relationships with the environment and others that eventually leads to depression. The theory was further supported by Adolf Meyer, Erich Fromm, and Frieda Fromm Reichmann which highlight the significance of current experiences, relationships, social roles, environmental changes, and life stresses in the cause of emotional disorders. They were inclined to place more emphasis on the ‘here and now’ as a generator of present mood than on the impact of early life experiences. Interpersonal theorists point to deficits in relationship and communication skills as possible precursors of depression.
Moreover, depressed people are specifically vulnerable to relationship challenges and experience adverse effects on their mood disorder, which can cause exhaustion, irritability, decreased sex drive, increased physical complaints, insomnia, loss of appetite, withdrawal from people and activities, and loss of happiness. In addition, the theories focus on how personal relationship and interaction result in mental depression. The majority of depressed patients lack social skills to build a rewarding and helpful relationship in everyday life. Studies discover that depressed individuals have fewer and lower quality relationships than non-depressed individuals. Moreover, their interpersonal environments are generally described with negativity, conflict, and rejection. Secondly, the social rhythm theory, which combines the aspects of both psychosocial and biological perspectives, claims that biological rhythms of life are affected with physical and emotional wellbeing.
In short, once the biological principles are unstable, the psychological mind will go through ups and downs associated with the feeling of despair and hopelessness. They suggest that social relationships, regular working habits, or the routine of life tend to support the stability of biological rhythms and the total biological entity, a condition known as homeostasis. Disruption of social relationships, work, or life routines therefore tends to destabilize biological rhythms such as their daily routine which causes sleep deprivation, loss of appetite and exhaustion. The resulting disruptions of neurobiological processes can potentially lead to the thought, emotional, and behavior changes associated with depression.
Similarly, Haynes also uses the social rhythm hypothesis of depression to claim that stressful life events interrupt a person’s daily routine or regular exposure to “social zeitgebers.” This disruption then leads to instability in specific biological rhythms which leads to mild somatic symptoms in non-vulnerable individuals. Vulnerable individuals may be unable to overcome the disruption, hence, endure a pattern of instability. Many studies have concluded that social rhythm instability is an important risk factor that causes mood disorder and mental depression. On the subject of interpersonal relationship and social interaction, which emphasizes that social engagement is one of the main causes of depression. However, social engagement only happens when one possesses adequate social skills to blend in and adapt to the environment.
Hence, studies have eventually found that social skill deficit is the result of failure in building interpersonal relationship and creating social communication. It is one of the main factors that cause people to be isolated and feel left out in the community. “People with poor social skills tend to experience more stress and loneliness, both of which can negatively impact health”, said study author Chris Segrin. Social skills refer to the skills that allow people to successfully interact and socialized in the community. Segrin focused on four specific indicators of social skills: the ability to provide emotional support to others; self-disclosure, or the ability to share personal information with others; negative assertion skills, or the ability to stand up to unreasonable requests from others; and relationship initiation skills, or the ability to introduce yourself to others and get to know them. Without effective social skills, one could not make friends, interact with other people and build new relationships in the workplace, school or church.
Social skill deficit eventually makes people feel distant from the community. It raises the feeling of loneliness, isolation and stressful. As stated by Simoni (2016), a negative relationship between depression and social skills was obtained by Chris Sergin, head of the UA Department of Communication. In general, social skills tend to mediate the relationship between stress and depression. Psychologist found that young adults and adolescents with better social skills had more positive relations with others and reduced depression as a result. Social skills and social support are closely related to one another as in order to receive social support, one tends to have outstanding social skills. In the sociological literature, the dominant view proposes a buffering mechanism in terms of the relationship between social skills and depression. That is, social skills and the support they provide, act as a coping resource in terms of stressful events.
Stressors are mainly the situations that exceed one’s ability to accept the challenges or the inability to bear the aftermath of the difficulties. However, if one is able to use social skills to build successful interpersonal relationships and have tight connection with the people in the community, that person will receive the social support provided by those relationships such as friends, colleagues, co-workers and families to overcome the pressure. Similarly, Lewinsohn’s (1975) behavioral theory of depression postulated that depression descends from poor social skills which reasoned that people with poor social skills would not be able to obtain positive reinforcements from their social environment and would be unable to prevent the occurrence of punishing events from others. Receiving support for the theory, hence, Lewinsohn’s rationale for the relationship between poor social skills and depression, is clearly evident from a recent one-year prospective study indicating that people with poor social skills experience more chronic interpersonal stressors. In the tradition of diathesis-stress models of psychopathology, Chris Segrin proposed that
poor social skills might be a cofactor in development of depression (Segrin, 2000, p. 394). Although some people live in isolated area, they may be contended with their lives and not tortured by the kinds of stressors and depression. It is those people who lack of proper social skills to connect with the people and eventually become stressful and start developing depressive symptoms. The reasoning behind this model is that people with good social skills can stimulate the kind and quantity of social support that will be effective for coping with the stressful events. On the other hand, people with poor social skills are expected to experience more stressors and be less able to secure assistance and social support for dealing with those stressors when they do occur. Since they do not possess well-rounded communication skills, they are not accompanied with a group of friends to help them get over those life challenges.
As was previously stated, experts in the field found out that the causes of depression could be due to interpersonal relationships and social rhythm disruptions. With further investigation, those reasons are believed to be the descendants of the major problem, which is social skill deficit. People with poor social skills are unable to navigate the social world, make new friends and build strong and rewarding relationships. Hence, they are often involved in low quality interpersonal relationship and experience social disruptions. As a result, these factors contribute to the gradual development of mental depression and anxiety.