'Ghosting', depression and suicidal thoughts

May 2021

Guest blogger 'Alistair' writes about his experiences of ghosting, the effects on his mental health and his bid to develop resilience

It’s been a long, hard road but it’s starting to feel as though life might soon return to something that vaguely resembles normality. Of course, things will never be quite the same again. The impact of this pandemic will continue to be felt for some time, not least on our mental health.

But with the vaccine roll-outs well underway, lockdown measures lifting and spring in the air, it does finally feel like there’s light at the end of the tunnel. We can start to put this behind us and move forward with a more positive mindset, right? Unfortunately, I can say from personal experience that it’s not necessarily quite as straightforward as that.

When the pandemic first hit, I was in the unfortunate position of already feeling very low, having been hurt by someone I cared for. If you’re not familiar with the practice of 'ghosting', or you’ve never experienced it personally, consider yourself very lucky. I would define it as the unprovoked, unilateral cessation of communication with a friend, relative or romantic interest.

I had heard of ghosting but, perhaps naively, assumed it was the preserve of a younger generation. I’m 36 and thought I was unlikely to experience it first-hand at my age. Even the word ghosting sounds childish and I think this association with youth and social media lends it a casual, whimsical quality that undermines and minimalizes what can be a very damaging behaviour, for both parties.

The 'ghostee' is left feeling betrayed, confused and completely powerless. They have no way of knowing what motivated this decision, so they’re left to speculate, often concluding that they themselves are deficient somehow. As for the 'ghoster', they will presumably have to perform some quite elaborate mental gymnastics to try to justify it to themselves. Or failing that, bury the guilt somewhere deep down inside. I’m not a psychologist but I’d venture to suggest that neither strategy is conducive to long-term mental well-being.

The extent of the damage will obviously depend on the significance of the relationship. While I would argue it’s never appropriate to ghost someone, it seems to me a particularly dangerous strategy for ending significant relationships that have lasted more than a few months.

It saddens and puzzles me to see that it appears to be increasingly prevalent. Research into frequency is largely anecdotal but the fact that there’s actually a recognised term for it seems to support the assertion that it’s not uncommon. And it seems to be infectious, as though victims of ghosting try to transfer the feelings of inadequacy that it has invoked in them by ‘passing it on’.

I sympathized when I heard cases of other people with depression or anxiety saying they felt a strange comfort with the imposition of lockdown because it gave them the perfect excuse to avoid human contact

I find it hard to believe that anyone who’s been on the receiving end would want to inflict that pain on someone else. But then I find it hard to understand why anyone would do it in the first place.

Ghosting seems symptomatic of an age where real-world interaction is dwindling, to be replaced by a seemingly more disposable digital proximation. Of course, we can’t blame the internet for unrequited affection or unkind gestures. And digital communication has often been our saviour of late. But there’s no doubt, from a technical and logistical perspective, it’s never been easier to hurt someone from a safe distance. And that’s a problem.

So, selfish as it sounds, for me, Covid-19 seemed slightly insignificant at first. It wasn’t my primary concern. In fact, I sympathized when I heard cases of other people with depression or anxiety stating that they also felt a strange comfort with the imposition of lockdown measures because it gave them the perfect excuse to avoid human contact.

Having already lived on my own for a few years, I convinced myself that I was used to isolation, prepared for it, preferred it even. This was a gross miscalculation. As time went by, with no company and very little else to occupy my mind, I became obsessed with my ghost. Why had they done it? Had I don’t something to upset them? Were they unwell? Had they just been gaslighting me the whole time? Was I not interesting enough? Did I not try hard enough?

As much as I tried to tell myself that it was no reflection on me or anything I’d done, I began to blame my own perceived inadequacies and spiralled into a deep depression. I experienced insomnia and loss of appetite, taking time off work as a result. I did my best to move on, deleting messages and disposing of mementos, but still couldn’t shift my focus away from this situation.

I should have sought professional help sooner but hoped that time would heal. In this case, I’m afraid it only made things worse, as my continued failure to move on became a source of distress in itself. I knew my reaction was probably excessive and exacerbated by lockdown, but I couldn’t seem to lift myself out of the hole I was in. As spring turned to summer and lockdown measures began to ease, I hoped that an opportunity to socialize and see family would lift my mood.

Unfortunately, by this point my mental health had deteriorated to such an extent that nothing seemed to help. If anything, things got worse. I would go out, see friends and forget about things for an hour or so. But as soon as I got back to my empty flat the dread would descend again, with a vengeance. Any momentary highs would be followed by devastating lows. I couldn’t work out what was wrong with me. I normally love the summer. Whatever’s going on in my life, a warm sunny day can usually give me a lift. But not this time.

Given everything we know about the impact of seasonal changes on mood, it would be reasonable to assume that suicide rates would be higher in winter months, when it’s cold, dark, wet and miserable. However, we also know that where mental illness is concerned, reason often goes out the window. Research actually suggests that any seasonal peaks in suicide rates are actually more likely to be in late spring and early summer. There are a number of theories as to why this might be the case, some psychological, some biological.

Although it seems counter-intuitive at first, when I think about my own situation last year, it does kind of make sense. When the activities that usually give us the most pleasure don’t meet our expectations, we start to lose hope. We see other people out enjoying themselves and wonder why we can’t feel the same. The lifting of lockdown probably exaggerated the effect. It carried hope of a better time that simply didn’t materialize for me. Even though the sun was shining and I could socialize again, my mood continued to deteriorate. I started to think there was nothing that could stop the rot. Consequently, I began to have suicidal thoughts and engage in other self-destructive behaviours. I became convinced that I would have to confront my ghost and get the answers I needed. Or, if that didn’t work find another, more permanent way to quiet my brain.

Inevitably, 'busting' my ghost did not go well. I tried to explain my situation in a letter, suggesting that a more amicable resolution would be preferable for both of us. Unfortunately, they were not sympathetic and refused to cooperate. This second rejection tipped me over the edge. I was filled with rage at their apparent disdain. How could someone be so cold? Especially when it was so apparent that, more than ever, we all needed to look out for each other.

At this point I basically had what could best be described as a mental breakdown. I began to drink heavily and made further attempts to negotiate with my ghost via social media. They perceived this to be threatening behaviour and I was subsequently arrested. Having never been in trouble with the police before, never mind arrested, this was an incredibly traumatic experience.

With the prospect of a criminal record hanging over me, not to mention the shame and guilt I felt, the suicidal thoughts grew louder

Luckily, I had the full support of friends and family who helped make sure I didn’t spiral any further. I eventually spoke to my GP who diagnosed me with depression. I’m still receiving help and the questions won’t go away but I do feel more optimistic.

Difficult as it is, this experience has also been very enlightening. Although I struggled with depression for a while, I’d never experienced it to this extent. Not to the point where I felt completely out of control. It’s opened my eyes to the realities of mental health. When I’m in that place, it’s like I can’t trust my own mind to do what’s best for me.

That’s why it’s so important to ask for external help. I’m trying to turn my experience into a positive. To increase my resilience and make me a stronger, more forgiving person

With spring upon us and summer round the corner, again combined with the lifting of lockdown measures, I also wanted to raise awareness of some potential misconceptions and banana skins around the corner. While there are certainly reasons to be cheerful, and I don’t want to be on a downer, the danger is real. Hopefully with more attention drawn to it, we can all be a little more vigilant. But perhaps the most important message is that if you are feeling suicidal at this time of year, you are certainly not alone and it’s completely natural. What’s more, it will pass. But don’t ignore it! Speak to someone.

If you’ve been affected by ghosting, I found this article quite helpful:


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