May 3, 2024

Lonely and depressed — but not alone

After a lifetime of feeling isolated, Moth Wygal finds connection thanks to treatment and support from Kaiser Permanente mental health professionals.

“I found a fantastic group of people who all value open and honest communication,” says Wygal. “I feel very lucky.”

From a young age, Moth Wygal found it difficult to connect with people.

Beginning at age 12, Wygal (who uses “they” and “them” pronouns) was bullied and excluded. They had low self-esteem, felt lonely and depressed, and struggled to make friends.

“I felt like I didn’t understand other people, and other people didn’t understand me,” Wygal said. “Things that seemed to come so naturally to other people didn’t come naturally to me.”

Wygal began misusing alcohol and drugs. At age 16, they attempted suicide.

Epidemic of loneliness

About 1 in 2 adults in the United States report experiencing loneliness, according to recent studies. Some of the highest rates are among young adults. A 2023 U.S. Surgeon General Advisory calls loneliness and isolation an epidemic.

“Social isolation affects both our mental and physical health,” said Don Mordecai, MD, Kaiser Permanente’s national mental health leader. “Persistent disconnection and loneliness have been linked to an increased risk for depression, anxiety, substance misuse, and suicidal thoughts. Physical consequences can include a greater likelihood of heart disease and stroke.”

Finding support

After their suicide attempt, Wygal attended an inpatient psychiatric program at Kaiser Permanente in Oregon. They began seeing Grant Partridge, a mental health counselor, and also participated in group therapy.

“Grant helped me understand that everyone feels isolated and alone sometimes,” Wygal said. “He helped me take it to heart for the first time in my life that I’m not the only person who feels this way.”

But Wygal’s feelings of loneliness and sadness didn’t simply disappear. A few years later, when their college stopped offering in-person classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they felt more isolated than ever.

“The pandemic was the loneliest time in my life,” Wygal said. “Online classes didn’t work for me, so I dropped out of school. I didn’t have a job. I didn’t have many friends, and it was hard to make new ones. I just felt so trapped.”

After 2 years of isolation and setbacks, Wygal decided to start therapy again. Their therapist helped them set specific goals and work hard to achieve them.

“I used to think the goal of therapy was to try to feel happy,” Wygal said. “But it’s too easy to beat myself up and feel like I’ve failed when I don’t feel happy all the time. Focusing on increasing my energy and motivation was a much more achievable goal for me.”

Connection and community

Wygal found a job at a neighborhood grocery store. They’ve made a lot of friends there and even met their partner. These were all goals Wygal set in therapy.

“I feel very happy with my social life now,” Wygal said. “I found a fantastic group of people who all value open and honest communication. Many of us are dealing with different mental health conditions, so we all understand and validate each other. I feel very lucky.”

Wygal continues to receive treatment with medication and regular therapy sessions. When needed, they’ve found additional support through an intensive outpatient program for young adults at Kaiser Permanente.

In the fall of 2023, Han-Chun Liang, MD, a psychiatrist, diagnosed Wygal with autism. That diagnosis has helped Wygal understand better why social interactions often felt difficult and overwhelming.

“It’s important for young people who are dealing with loneliness to know they have people present in their lives who they can depend on,” said Dr. Liang. “If you are concerned about someone, reach out to let them know they are not alone. By offering your support, you might be part of the hope and connection they’re looking for.”

Get help if you need it

If you or someone you know is having a mental health crisis, including thoughts of suicide, help is available:

  • Kaiser Permanente members can get connected to care at
  • The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is available by calling or texting 988. There is also an online chat at
  • If you or someone you know needs immediate emergency medical services for a mental health crisis, including thoughts of suicide, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.