The Impact of Social Isolation

“Because social contact is such a fundamental human need, we suffer both mentally and physically without it.” ~ Prof. Judy Brown MD, PhD

The recent months have seen us return to some form of normality, and with the reduction of pandemic restrictions, we’re beginning to emerge from the isolation of our homes and rejoin our communities.

Although some anxiety and uncertainty remains, most of the population are eager to return to their old lives; socialising, travelling, working collectively and engaging in hobbies. However, the effects of social isolation and loneliness have left their mark on people’s mental health across all ages, genders, and demographics.

Research has evidenced that social isolation has a significant impact on our health and can lead to major depression, anxiety disorders and dementia.

Below, we explore how isolation impacts mental health, the signs and symptoms that someone may require support and how best to cope with its effects.

Understanding Isolation

Isolation and loneliness are often used interchangeably; however, they are distinctly different concepts and therefore have unique effects on our health.

  • Loneliness is a perceived shortfall between the actual and desired quality and quantity of relationships.[1]
  • Isolation is the deficit of someone’s social relationships, characterised through the reduction or changes to social group size, variety, or occurrence of contact.[2]

By understanding these two terms, we can see that someone can be lonely despite having social relationships, and it is possible to be isolated without feeling lonely at all.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, it was estimated that more than eight million older adults were negatively impacted by isolation.[3]  The senior communities suffered the most due to a combination of loss of social roles, widowhood, cognitive decline, ill health, and loss of peers.[4]

However, the pandemic has exacerbated the impact of isolation and prevalence rates have increased in all age groups.

Adults who work from home have been particularly affected. The loss of social interaction in the workplace and the sense of task collaboration has resulted in higher rates of stress and seclusion.

Isolation and Health

Community is vital for both psychological and physiological health. Being a part of a group has been essential to our survival as a species, meaning that connection to others goes deeper than mere socialising.

The effects of social isolation on our health and well-being are so severe that many countries are now considering it a health priority.

Some of the health risks associated with isolation include:[5]

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Schizophrenia
  • Delusional disorder
  • Self-injurious behaviour/suicidal ideation
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Substance use disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Cancer

There is comprehensive evidence that social isolation can have an equivalent or more significant risk to mortality than obesity or smoking.[6]

Signs to Look Out For

While some will not have been detrimentally affected, most of us rely on regular social contact to remain positive, so our psychological well-being will have been impacted due to being isolated for extended periods, leading to symptoms such as:

  • Insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability or anger
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • More frequent or unexpected feelings of tearfulness
  • Changes to appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Lack of motivation
  • Fatigue
  • Poor self-care

It is important to note that these symptoms will vary from person to person and can range from mild or severe. Therefore, it is vital to be aware that there can be an intangible shift between a temporary reaction to social isolation and life-threatening and destructive behaviour patterns.

Those struggling with isolation must be aware of their feelings and put strategies in place to alleviate the influence on their mental and physical health.

Coping Through Connection

The critical method in mitigating the impact is to find ways to foster connection. There are almost limitless ways to communicate in our modern world, including video chat, social media, phone calls and email. Of course, face to face interaction is generally the most beneficial type; however, any effort to create a sense of community will provide accumulatively positive results.

As we venture back into our communities and networks, we may experience a new form of social anxiety and unease. After so long in our homes and interacting with only a select few, it is understandable that we feel somewhat out of practice in our interpersonal skills or reluctant to be around large groups of people.

Be patient and kind with yourself, as time really is a healer in this situation. Surround yourself with friends, colleagues, and loved ones who support you and encourage you. Be mindful of your thoughts and feelings and practice relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises and meditation, or somatic practices like Tai Chi and yoga.

However, if you are experiencing acute problems due to social isolation or social interaction, please seek therapeutic help to allow yourself to build the coping skills required to manage these issues.

The Revoke Programme provides a combination of treatment approaches adapted to match your personal circumstances, and our expert therapists continually evaluate your progress and make appropriate changes to your treatment plan to ensure you always receive the best possible support.


[1] Perlman D, Peplau LA. Toward a social psychology of loneliness. Pers Relat. 1981;3:31–56.

[2] de Jong GJ, van Tilburg T, Dykstra P, Vangelisti A, Perlman D. Loneliness and social isolation. The Cambridge handbook of personal relationships. 2005:485–500.

[3] Holt-Lunstad, Julianne. “The Potential Public Health Relevance Of Social Isolation And Loneliness: Prevalence, Epidemiology, And Risk Factors”. Public Policy & Aging Report, vol 27, no. 4, 2017, pp. 127-130. Oxford University Press (OUP), Accessed 16 Mar 2022.

[4] Victor C, Scambler S, Bond J, Bowling A. Being alone in later life: loneliness, social isolation and living alone. Rev Clin Gerontol. 2000;10(04):407–417. doi: 10.1017/S0959259800104101.

[5] Malcolm, Martin et al. “Loneliness And Social Isolation Causal Association With Health-Related Lifestyle Risk In Older Adults: A Systematic Review And Meta-Analysis Protocol”. Systematic Reviews, vol 8, no. 1, 2019. Springer Science And Business Media LLC, Accessed 16 Mar 2022.

[6] House JS, Landis KR, Umberson D

Science. 1988 Jul 29; 241(4865):540-5.


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