Social Isolation and Seeking Help

Tracy Smith, LPC, NCC, ACS
Updated on December 23, 2020

Human beings have an innate need to connect with others. Psychological research has consistently demonstrated that there is a close correlation between the quality and quantity of close relationships people have, and their physical and emotional health. Emotional support and friendship act as important buffers to stress and have a direct impact on self-esteem and feelings of self-worth. Social isolation can cause loneliness, which can then lead to other mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.

Social Isolation

What Causes Social Isolation?

Social isolation occurs when a person loses contact with the outside world. It’s characterized by the absence of emotional intimacy and meaningful social relationships. An individual that is socially isolated will remain at home for extended periods of time, lack communication with family and friends, and may deliberately avoid contact with others. Social isolation can trigger feelings of loneliness, apprehension, and low self-esteem. It can arise early in life, especially in response to feelings of humiliation, remorse, or alienation from negative early childhood experiences.

Social isolation can arise from fixed circumstances rather than by choice. For example, isolation can occur when an individual lives in a distant region, does not have access to transportation or has to remain socially distanced in order to limit the exposure to infectious diseases. A person would have no choice but to remain at home, thus missing out on opportunities to engage in social functions. Unemployment and the loss of a work environment, domestic violence, and financial issues are other circumstances that can prompt seclusion.

Unsurprisingly, isolation can be especially prevalent in the geriatric population. Retirement, declining health, and uninvolved family members can contribute to isolation in the elderly. The elderly population may lack friends and acquaintances, and if they do have them, their friends may rarely call or visit them.

Social isolation may, at times, be purposeful and can result when individuals deliberately withdraw themselves from civilization. One may even attempt to rationalize their seclusion by classifying it as pleasurable. There are several reasons why one may isolate themselves from others. People may seclude themselves if they have a health condition or disability due to fear of being stigmatized. Grief, loss, and bereavement can also be reasons for isolating behaviors.

Physical and mental disabilities, substance abuse and mental health conditions can also result in one’s increased isolation. Individuals that are on the autism spectrum, or who have a developmental disability may be challenged with social interactions. People with educational and learning disabilities may struggle academically, causing them to feel as if they do not fit in, thus precipitating isolating behaviors. 

Coping with Social Isolation

There are several ways for individuals that are socially isolated to receive help. Professional counseling services can assist a person in exploring and processing issues surrounding self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. Psychotropic medication may be a valid treatment option to help individuals to alleviate mental health symptoms. 

Discontinuing isolating behaviors may be difficult, but is critical in overcoming social isolation. Individuals can increase socialization with others by joining a club, engaging in a new hobby, or volunteering. Obtaining a pet can teach a person how to form an emotional connection, which may then make it easier to form one with other people. However one chooses to seek help, it is important to remember that connecting with others is necessary in maintaining emotional and physical well-being.

Tracy Smith, LPC, NCC, ACS

Tracy is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is a clinical supervisor for the Community YMCA, Counseling & Social Services branch. Tracy has over 12 years of experience working in many settings including partial care hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, community agencies, group practice, and school-based programs. Tracy works with clients of all ages, but especially enjoys working with the adolescents. Tracy  facilitates groups using art therapy, sand play and psychodrama.

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