Social isolation is more than just loneliness, it’s the lack of interactions with other people and can negatively affect a person’s physical, mental, and social health. Social isolation can actually shorten a person’s life span. When a person feels lonely, it’s an emotion often triggered by a sense of loss; this could be related to the loss of a companion, their health, a job, or any number of things. A person who feels lonely may not actually be alone and still has social connections, this is the distinction between isolation and loneliness. Social isolation is being separated from other people and a lack of social connection.
Social isolation typically lasts for an extended period of time, where loneliness is usually temporary. Social isolation has been found to increase with age. A person that is socially isolated may not necessarily feel lonely, especially if it is voluntary or they have an introvert personality. There are many contributing factors for social isolation. Major life transitions like the death of a loved one or even job retirement can be extremely difficult and result in loss of social connections. A person with a disability or illness that prevents them from leaving the house or having contact with other people. Others that are physically able to meet people may be mentally inhibited by depression, anxiety, or social adversity. Struggling to make ends meet financially and not having the means to socialize, go out to eat, or own a vehicle. People that are caregivers for a loved one at home are also at a disadvantage. Any of these barriers can lead to social isolation and loneliness. Social isolation can also lead to fear of others and negative self esteem; many people isolate themselves to avoid social interactions out of fear it will stigmatize them.
People that are socially isolated are at increased risk for multiple health problems. Some mental health problems are depression, anxiety, and higher levels of stress. Physical health problems include impaired immune system, inflammation, high blood pressure, heart disease, and chronic illness. Cognitive issues can also occur, such as memory problems and Alzheimers. The risks of social isolation are similar to those in diseases such as obesity and smoking. Studies have shown that social isolation increases the risk of premature death from every cause. Because humans are naturally social animals, we require human contact to develop well.
Prevent Social Isolation
There are ways to prevent and fight social isolation. Below are some steps you can take:
- Stay in touch with family and friends.
- Find other means of transportation if you don’t have your own.
- Get involved in your community.
- Adopt a pet.
- Volunteer work.
- Stay physically active.
- Find and join an activity or club that you enjoy.
- Make contact with another person a regular part of your day.
- Speak to a mental health professional.