How does social isolation cause depression

Social isolation / loneliness

Description of social isolation and loneliness

What is social isolation? What is loneliness What are the differences?

Social isolation means that a person has few or no contacts in their family or social environment. However, social isolation can also be chosen voluntarily if people consciously withdraw and do not want to maintain contact with other people. Therefore, a distinction must be made between the objective state of being alone (social isolation) and the subjective feeling (loneliness): loneliness is a problem of society and a form of social isolation that is not voluntarily chosen, often due to external influences such as the death of the partner. Someone is lonely when they suffer from it. He feels lost, left out, not understood, and maybe unloved. Therefore loneliness and social isolation have to be separated from each other, because those who live alone of their own free will do not always have to feel lonely. Some people even enjoy being alone. Conversely, you can also feel lonely in a group of people if, for example, you are not properly included by your family. The unemployed, young people (e.g. students), offenders, migrants, people with disabilities or people with chronic diseases are also at risk.

What are the consequences of social isolation and loneliness?

Not infrequently the withdrawal from the social environment ends in a mental illness. Social isolation can also be the result of a mental disorder, for example when a depressed person withdraws more and more from his social network and wants to be alone. Furthermore, social isolation and loneliness can lead to an unhealthy lifestyle, as those affected always have to cook for themselves, cannot be disciplined (for example with regard to smoking or alcohol) and have no motivator to move. This unhealthy lifestyle is often a trigger for cardiovascular diseases. In addition, it is difficult to observe people who live alone, for example when someone has to take their medication regularly or has to go to doctor's appointments. Even in the event of a medical emergency, you may not be able to make an emergency call on your own and get no help.

What forms of social isolation and loneliness are there?

One can distinguish whether people withdraw for a short time, for example when there are changes in life such as unemployment, the birth of children or even a move. In addition, there is the creeping retreat, in which people slowly break down their social contacts and go out less and less. The worst form of loneliness is the state of chronic loneliness, when a person has no contact with the outside world for years and has even forgotten how to relate to others.

Emergence of social isolation and loneliness

How does social isolation and loneliness come about?

Social isolation and loneliness can have various causes, which can be divided into internal and external factors. A distinction must be made between whether someone ends up in social isolation through external circumstances or whether they decide to want to live in isolation. For example, family conflicts can be a trigger that one breaks contact with the family, but it can also be that the family offends a person and thus leaves them alone.

The external factors can include:

  • Loss of loved ones,
  • Family conflicts
  • Belonging to a risk group (e.g. people with a low social status)
  • unreliable relationships
  • mobbing
  • financial problems

Internal factors, on the other hand, can be:

  • negative self-image, lack of self-esteem
  • lack of social experience
  • Communication deficits
  • Impulse control disorder
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Personality disorder (for example, narcissistic or schizoid personality disorders)
  • Addiction disease
  • dementia
  • almost all psychiatric illnesses, especially depression, schizophrenia, social phobias, or obsessive-compulsive disorder

Help with social isolation and loneliness

When are social isolation and loneliness dangerous? How can this be prevented?

Since social isolation only describes an objective status of being alone and many people enjoy solitude, it only becomes dangerous when someone begins to suffer from isolation - when they feel lonely. Even people who may unconsciously withdraw further and further, do not maintain ties, neglect themselves or no longer go outside should seek therapeutic help or be actively offered it. Even if you suddenly find yourself in a situation in which you are left alone, for example if the caregiver dies, financial problems no longer allow the current living situation or an illness makes contact with the outside world disappear), you should ask for support.

It also becomes dangerous when people do not want to admit that they are lonely. Many of those affected persuade themselves that they can get along well on their own, but secretly want to be in contact with their social environment.

If you belong to a risk group such as the elderly, students, offenders, the unemployed or people with disabilities, it is important to maintain a daily structure, for example in the form of voluntary work or a hobby. In addition, actively building relationships is an important preventive measure. As a student, for example, you should plan free time during the examination phase to spend with friends so that you can continue to participate in social life.

What can you do if you are socially isolated?

Social isolation often only follows a mental illness, for example the social withdrawal of a depressed patient. Therefore, in this case there is a need to treat the depression - primarily with psychotherapy, unless otherwise possible, also through the addition of medication. For example, if the social isolation is based on an anxiety disorder, this can be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy.

In addition, there are outpatient support options, for example assisted living or part-time inpatient work therapies, especially for mental illnesses. If you cannot turn to anyone and want contact with the outside world, you can also get help from telephone counseling and talk to other people.