Effects of Social Isolation on Mental Health

Many people engage in social isolation. However, this is not always good for their mental health, but why?

Table of Contents

What is Social Isolation?

In order to understand the effects of social isolation on mental health, it is important to become familiar with social isolation and what it entails. Social isolation connects to an individual’s mental and physical wellbeing.

Some of the adverse effects of loneliness include reduced immune functioning and increased levels of depression, anxiety, and suicidal tendency. In some cases, it also leads to poor cognitive function. Individuals of different ages can experience the effects of loneliness.

No matter the age, it’s imperative to recognize and admit the struggle with social isolation. Please keep reading to learn more about how to overcome social isolation, its causes, and effects.

A Closer Look at Social Isolation

Social isolation defines an individual’s state of lacking social connections. In some people, social isolation may result in loneliness, while others also feel lonely even with social connections. Note that social isolation depression differs from relaxing, rejuvenating, or meditating. It’s solitude that classifies as unhealthy.1

Most individuals experiencing social isolation depression effects lack friends, close coworkers and usually experience feelings of depression. Such individuals may also suffer from anxiety or low self-esteem. Apart from physical isolation, social isolation could also involve emotional isolation.

In the case of emotional isolation, individuals exhibit an unwillingness to share feelings with others. With time, the isolation and mental health condition makes most individuals detach from their feelings. In other words, they become emotionally numb.

Some people that tend to experience effects of loneliness include unemployed individuals, people experiencing long-term diseases, and individuals with disabilities.

Causes of Social Isolation

Many conditions can cause individuals to isolate themselves from others or follow through in the path of social isolation. Here are some causes of depression and isolation below:

Intimate Partner Violence

If a person is in a certain abusive relationship, there’s a tendency to avoid contact with family and friends. Such individuals may also show isolating behavior to coworkers. In most cases, an individual in an abusive relationship is isolated from family and friends due to shame. For many individuals experiencing abuse in a relationship, shame is a major factor causing depression and isolation.

Partners may often feel invaded or helpless as a consequence of another individual’s actions. Some partners also blame themselves for the actions of the other party, making them feel lonely.

Loss of Loved Ones

Isolating after the loss of a friend or family is common, especially among older individuals who lose people around their age group. After the loss of a loved one, others may not reach out because they find it uncomfortable to discuss the event. In many cases, people don’t have the best words.2

Many times, social isolation depression occurs when individuals experiencing the loss of a loved one don’t have anyone to confide in about the grief. Such individuals may also feel like those around them only offer superficial condolences.

Mental Health Issues

Some of the major impacts of social isolation on mental health can be depression, low self-esteem, and anxiety. 

One of the major detriments of depression is social withdrawal or isolating behavior. Many times, the need to withdraw ends up worsening the symptoms of depression, keeping people caught in a cycle.

Low Self-Esteem
Lack of self-esteem is one of the significant isolation effects. Individuals with low self-esteem often feel unworthy of making friends or spending time with their loved ones.

Due to the feelings of fear and uneasiness in social gatherings, most individuals often want to isolate themselves. Noticeable isolation effects due to anxiety may classify as a condition called social anxiety disorder.

Remote Location

Individuals living in remote areas and are geographically separated from friends and family may experience depression and isolation. In many cases, the separation is typically due to job duties like military service or a career involving consistent travel.

When job duties begin to influence an individual’s overall mental health, it’s important to consult a counselor. It may be advisable to discuss with the employer about possible job schedule adjustments to avoid the effects of loneliness.

Physical Impairments

Physical impairments that affect movement can cause lack of social interaction. A disability isn’t a weakness, but some people with impairments feel ashamed of their appearance, making them reluctant to social interaction, causing mental health isolation.

Hearing and vision impairments can create a sense of physical and mental health isolation. Other forms of physical disability include acquired brain injury, spina bifida, spinal cord injury (SCI), cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and cystic fibrosis.

Our Brains and Social Isolation

When individuals experience social isolation, it enacts a unique “neural signature” in the brain. Most people that report social isolation and loneliness typically experience more activity in the default mode network. In such cases, it may also reflect higher levels of self-focus. Here are some of the ways that social isolation impacts mental health in terms of specific areas in the brain.


The hippocampus is a complex structure of the brain that is embedded deep within the temporal lobe. Depression and social isolation can both affect functions of the hippocampus, like memory and learning abilities, both of which can result in affective disorders.3


Scientists discovered that there is a relationship between the size of a person’s social network and the size of the amygdala. Greater activity in the amygdala has been said to increase the perception of stimuli as being threatening or fear-inducing. The amygdala is also responsible for processing other strong emotions, like pleasure and anger, the latter of which can contribute to isolating behaviors.

Prefrontal Cortex

The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is a part of the brain that covers the frontal lobe. It’s a region of the brain responsible for planning complex cognitive behavior, making decisions, and expressing parts of your personality. Individuals experiencing depression fueled by social isolation typically have less activity in their prefrontal cortex than their non-depressed and non-isolated peers.

Social isolation effects on mental health

Effects of Social Isolation on Your Mental Health

Some social isolation effects on mental health are similar to its effects on physical wellbeing. Here’s a breakdown of the social isolation effects on mental health:


Social isolation or loneliness typically augments depression. When an individual stays away from others or shows a lack of social interaction, it cuts down communication. Hence, such individuals handle situations all by themselves.

For this reason, loneliness sets in, and depression may occur. To reduce possible symptoms of social isolation depression, it’s advisable to reach out to others. Increasing sleep and exercise patterns also have a positive effect.

Suicidal Thoughts and Suicide Attempts

One of the most life-threatening social isolation effects on mental health is having suicidal thoughts or attempts. It’s imperative to seek help at any instance of experiencing suicidal thoughts due to lack of social interaction. Apart from loneliness or mental health isolation, suicidal thoughts and attempts may occur due to mental health conditions, abuse, feeling inadequate, and the end of a relationship.

Stress and Anxiety

Many individuals may experience stress and anxiety when they are away from others or experience lack of social interaction. Stress and anxiety is one of the major social isolation effects on mental health.

Big life changes relating to mental health isolation can contribute significantly to stress and anxiety. For example, the loss of a loved one or a relationship with an abusive partner can raise stress and anxiety levels, significantly influencing isolation and mental health disorders.

Sleep Disruption

Social isolation depression relates directly to poor sleep quality or sleep disruption. According to a study for the Sleep Research Society in Sleep, older adults experiencing loneliness typically experience sleep disruption. When an individual doesn’t have enough sleep, it may also interfere with learning abilities and cause memory impairments.

Decreased Ability to Regulate Eating

Individuals experiencing depression and isolation may find it difficult to regulate their eating cycle. Research also proves loneliness and isolation are related to a reduced appetite. Social isolation can influence when and how much an individual eats. In older people, social isolation increases the risk of under-nutrition.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Social isolation and PTSD are interconnected. PTSD is one of the social isolation effects on mental health. In many cases, depression and isolation occurs as a side effect to those experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder.

Most people with PTSD are aware that the experiences leading to their condition are unique to them. Hence, they believe others don’t understand and often avoid social interaction.

Greater Difficulty Paying Attention and Doing Complex Tasks

Since depression and isolation affects cognitive function, individuals may face challenges in information processing, reasoning, judgment, perception, and memory. Problems with cognitive functioning result in difficulty paying attention and performing complex tasks. Ultimately, it may affect an individual’s job, school, or personal activities.

How to Overcome the Effects of Social Isolation

Overcoming the effects of loneliness is possible, even as an old individual. Here are some significant ways to overcome the effects of loneliness:

Acknowledge Your Feelings

Many times, individuals feel it’s easier to ignore their feelings when struggling with social isolation side effects. However, when learning how to overcome social isolation, it’s not always best to ignore feelings. People should take time out to acknowledge things are difficult.

Eat Healthier

Maintain a healthy eating cycle and ensure the meals are healthy. Consider consuming more oats, fruits, and vegetables. Eating healthy helps enhance mood, reduce social isolation depression, increase learning ability, build self-esteem, and learn how to overcome social isolation.

Engage in the Community

Engaging in the community keeps individuals experiencing the psychological effects of isolation active. In many cases, it also promotes a healthy relationship with other individuals.

Reconnect With Your Interests

Once an individual notices they have more time for themselves, it’s advisable to think about major interests to avoid isolation and mental health issues. Connect to hobbies and new interests.

Take Outdoor Breaks

Staying outdoors is beneficial for an individual’s mental and physical health. Natural light is helpful for boosting mood and easing symptoms of social isolation depression.

Accept That the Situation is Challenging

Accepting that isolation and mental health conditions are challenging is similar to acknowledging feelings. It helps individuals understand it’s appropriate to take steps to treat psychological effects of isolation.

Therapeutic Treatment for Social Isolation

Here are the major treatment options on how to overcome social isolation.4

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is a talk therapy designed to help individuals stay aware of their negative thought patterns, which end up affecting their behavior. Cognitive behavioral therapy also focuses on helping individuals develop effective ways to cope with isolation effects.

Exposure Therapy
Exposure therapy helps people break patterns of behavior and thoughts that are rooted in fear. During these therapy sessions, individuals become exposed to scenarios that they avoid, except this takes place in a safe and controlled environment. Exposure therapy can help people confront their fears, manage their anxiety, and process their emotions.

When to Seek Professional Help

Individuals should seek immediate help when they observe symptoms like confused thinking, extreme swings in emotion, inability to cope with daily challenges, and prolonged depression. Some socially isolated individuals may find it difficult to seek help. In such cases, loved ones or trusted individuals should reach out for help.


If you or a loved one needs help, please call us at
623-523-4748 and our team at Blueprints For Recovery in Arizona will help.

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