How Loneliness Can Impact Someone’s Physical and Mental Health


If there’s something that a majority of us have learned in 2020, it’s that not having social interaction can take a toll on you. Throughout quarantine and the COVID-10 crisis, we have been staying in our homes away from the people we are used to communicating face-to-face with. This can result in a feeling somewhat like what a large number of people face every day: social isolation.

High-quality social relationships help us live longer, happy lives; we need strong ties to other people in order to thrive. Unfortunately, people suffering from social isolation lack these close relationships to others.

This feeling can cause more than loneliness; those with social isolation are at risk for several mental and physical health issues. However, these conditions can hopefully be avoided or lessened with the correct treatment.


Social Isolation: What Is It?

Social isolation is often mistaken for loneliness, but it’s perhaps more than that. Being lonely means feeling alone regardless of the connections you have; being socially isolated means that you lack any connections altogether. So while people who battle social isolation may often feel lonely, those who are lonely aren’t necessarily being socially isolated.

This absence of social interaction can impact one’s mortality, risking the same magnitude of effects as smoking or having high blood pressure.


Suffering From Social Isolation

As we discussed earlier, humans are social animals. The lack of that connection can be hurtful and harmful in more ways than one.

The three main groups that primarily suffer from social isolation include senior citizens, immigrants, and LGBT people. These individuals are typically on the outskirts of society, causing them to retreat and be on their own more often than wanted.

Older individuals typically live on their own and may be losing many people they know, so loneliness is inevitable. This loneliness might then turn into social isolation, so it’s important for loved ones and doctors to keep an eye out when caring for seniors. A majority of people affected by social isolation are senior citizens at 65 or older.


The Effects of Social Isolation on the Brain

Social isolation can do more to the brain and body than you might think. First, it can affect several brain structures. Here are some areas that might be impacted:

  • Hippocampus – connected with intelligence or impaired learning ability
  • Amygdala – plays a role in memory and triggers “fight-or-flight” responses
  • Prefrontal Cortex – controls behavior and decision making

People who are isolated tend to have a smaller amygdala or hippocampus; or they may have reduced levels of brain volumes in the prefrontal cortex than average.


Social Isolation’s Physical Impact

In addition to the effects that isolation can have on your mind and social abilities, it can also play a part in your overall health.

Social isolation has been known to put individuals at higher risk for:

  • Dementia
  • Heart disease
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Suicide and premature death

Because of these severe risk factors, it’s important to take action as soon as possible if you think that you or someone you love may be suffering from social isolation.


Recovering From Social Isolation

While dealing with social isolation can be tough, there are plenty of resources and organizations out there that aim to help. Check for local groups or meetings in your community, along with events from national organizations. Groups such as AARP, AAA, and The National Council On Aging are specialized in identifying social isolation.

To learn more and receive treatment options for social isolation, turn to the team at Steps to Recovery. We will help you determine if you or a loved one could benefit from certain types of therapies or groups that cater to isolation. Start living a happier and healthier life today – contact us by giving us a call at 267.209.7312.