Isolation is a common problem that can contribute to mental health conditions. Conversely, many mental health conditions cause individuals to disengage from social activities, leading to isolation. Isolation can have lasting health impacts if not addressed with the help of a therapist.

What is isolation?

Isolation describes a lack of social engagement and an overwhelming sense of disconnection from others. People who isolate often do not attend social events like birthday parties, movie nights, dinners, or sports events. Whether the decision to avoid these social events is explicit or unconscious, the lack of connection to others leads to an overall negative emotional state.

Humans are social by nature. Even so, everyone feels lonely at some point in their lives. It takes effort to build, grow, and nurture relationships. Many people who suffer from mental health conditions do not have the energy to develop their relationships – often, even responding to a text message seems like an impossible task. This can lead to isolation, where the individual does not regularly communicate with others and feels disconnected from the outside world.

Types of isolation

Isolation can look a wide variety of ways. Some people isolate themselves by keeping to themselves, not leaving their houses, and not reaching out or responding to friends or family. Other people may feel isolated despite being surrounded by other people – without a strong sense of connection, there can be the presence of loneliness, which impacts mental health. When it comes to isolation, both the quantity and quality of friendships or relationships plays a role.

People become isolated either because of mental health conditions or life circumstances. After the loss of a loved one or a major break-up, it’s common for individuals to feel isolated as they readjust to a new normal. Life transitions, including becoming an adult, can also be a cause of isolation, as we naturally outgrow some relationships that no longer feel meaningful to us. When you find yourself struggling to build connections with others over long periods of time and this negatively influences your mental health, it may be time to work with a therapist.

Symptoms of isolation

Isolation comes with feelings of loneliness, disappointment, frustration, worthlessness, low self-esteem, and emotional fatigue. Some people develop physical symptoms because of isolation, including insomnia, malaise, or aches. Other people develop harmful patterns of negative self-talk that influence their mood. Sometimes, the inclination towards isolation can impact or even break relationships, especially if an individual does not return calls or texts from their friends and family, which can lead to larger mental health implications down the line.

However, isolation is a major symptom of many mental health conditions. Conditions such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and PTSD may cause an individual to isolate. Their isolation might not be a conscious decision, however their mental health doesn’t allow them the resources to engage with those around them in meaningful ways.

Therapy for isolation

When someone is isolated, it’s vital for them to start working with a trained mental health professional. Because isolation can cause an alarming deterioration in mental health – and in some cases, lead to self-harm or thoughts of self-harm – therapy is a great resource. Clients identify the ways that they’re isolating and how this isolation impacts their relationships, daily routines, and mental health. Therapists encourage clients to reflect on the reasons why they’re isolating and to talk about their difficult emotions.

Therapists who specialize in isolation will also help their clients slowly reconnect with others. By collaborating on social engagement practices, the therapist and client find ways for the client to feel more fulfilled by interactions with others. They’ll also talk about and work through any other mental health issues that the client might face.