How Isolation Impacts Mental Health

Contributed by: Jane Sandwood

When did you last say hello to your neighbor? Each day, thousands of Connecticut residents suffer from social isolation. Whether it’s a lonely high school student, a stay-at-home mother, or a senior in a care facility, isolation from others negatively affects individuals of any age or background. But humans are social creatures, and living an isolated lifestyle for a prolonged period can have a grave impact on both physical and mental health.

A research team at McGill discovered that after just a few hours, isolation can lead to a distorted perception of time, high levels of anxiety, and even hallucinations. Case studies of prisoners kept in solitary confinement also indicate that a lack of human contact can lead to a cognitive breakdown. The first step to solving loneliness and social isolation is to address the root of the problem.

Causes of Social Isolation
Prisoners living in solitary confinement are an extreme example of isolation, but many of us experience loneliness in other forms as we go about our day. Living alone, having a small social network, and infrequent participation in social activities such as volunteering or religious services have all been shown to lead to isolation. These problems are particularly prevalent among the elderly and those living in Connecticut nursing facilities.

The Dangers of Isolation
It’s no secret that isolation can lead to a decline in physical health. Studies show that a lack of social connections can increase the risk of death by at least 50%, while in some cases, isolation can increase the risk of mortality by more than 90%. Furthermore, social isolation has been linked to higher blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, vulnerability to infection, and an overactive immune response.

Loneliness can affect your mental and emotional health as well as your physical well being. Without enough social interaction, you may be at risk of:

Social isolation can also get in the way of everyday functioning. It can throw off sleep patterns, disrupt focus, and affect both logical and verbal reasoning.

But it is possible to overcome isolation. Therapy is just one way that can help people open up and connect with others. Therapy can help you learn practical coping skills for dealing with isolation while building the social skills that you need to meet other people. Connecticut residents can find professional help by turning to the city’s many mental health services, or contacting MHC for referrals. By taking it just one step at a time, you can finally break free of the isolation that’s been holding you back.