What Is Social Isolation?
Social isolation is the lack of social interaction, contact, or communication with other people. Those who socially isolate have an absence of relationships with family and friends, or other forms of social networks. Social isolation may be expressed through physical separation with others, social barriers, or psychological mechanisms.
How Does Social Isolation Happen?
A person may isolate for many reasons. Physical conditions, such as a disability, may make it difficult to leave the house. Other physical issues may cause shame or embarrassment and reduce the likelihood that an individual engages in social interactions.
Similarly, mental or emotional disorders such as agoraphobia, anxiety, and depression, can cause fear of interaction with others, reduced motivation to seek relationships, or strong anxiety reactions.
Finally, some individuals have personality disorders that lead to difficulty with social interactions. For example, Schizoid Personality Disorder results in individuals who have detachment from social relationships and a limited range of emotional expression. Often relationships are not sought or craved, leading to social isolation. Conversely, those with Schizotypal Personality Disorder crave relationships, but have significant social and interpersonal deficits that create discomfort in social situations. This restricts and limits close social relationships. This is frequently expressed as extreme shyness.
Symptoms of Social Isolation:
The symptoms of social isolation can include:
- Avoidance of occupational activities that involve contact with others
- Feelings of social ineptitude
- Fear of, or preoccupation with, rejection
- Risk avoidance
- Low self-esteem
- Questioning reality
- Feelings of disconnection from the world
- Feelings of loneliness
Social isolation may be present even if an individual is frequently around others. Some populations are at higher risk of social isolation than others. For example, increased social isolation is seen in the elderly population, teens, and those who are physically disabled with conditions such as multiple sclerosis. Loneliness affects individuals differently and can have a severe impact upon a person’s coping skills, stress level, and health.
Risks Associated with Social Isolation:
Individuals who are socially isolated are more susceptible to overall health problems. To understand the severity of the consequences associated with social isolation, one need only think about how inmates respond to sustained solitary confinement.
Specific issues related to social isolation outcomes include:
- Stress and hypertension
- Sleep disturbances
- Illness and injury
- Nutrition problems (usually in the elderly)
- Child maltreatment
- Later development of schizophrenia is higher among socially isolated children
Coping with Social Isolation:
Social isolation and loneliness can be managed in a number of different ways.
Primarily, finding ways of reaching out to others is paramount, as is maintaining relationships that have been formed.
Joining social/hobby groups or sports, and becoming a member of a community (such as a church or advocacy group) are great ways to both feel connected to something and meet others. Skills-building courses (usually offered at adult education institutions) and volunteer opportunities can be very helpful, as well.
Those who are socially isolated may need encouragement for, or validation of, their attempts to reach out. Here is how a loved one can help:
- Discuss hopes and fears
- Identify social groups
- Utilize technology for house-bound individuals
Other helpful things include:
- Therapies such as massage, aromatherapy, and acupuncture
- Adult education classes
- Community action groups
Additional Social Isolation Resources:
Patient.co.uk: A UK based resource addressing the symptoms, presentation, and management of loneliness.
Elder Care On-line is a resource specifically regarding loneliness in the elder population. This site also includes a comprehensive list of skill-building activities for a variety of socially isolated individuals.
Schizophrenia.com: provides information on lowering risks of schizophrenia through development of social skills.
The Centre for Clinical Interventions offers self-help workbooks for addressing social anxiety.