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The Link Between Social Isolation and Poor Mental Health

The Link Between Social Isolation and Poor Mental Health

Social isolation and poor mental health are big issues worldwide, and both of these problems are increasingly common in developed countries. What’s more, they’re strongly connected.

Studies show that social isolation can worsen poor mental health and increase the risk of mental health disorders. In turn, poor mental health can worsen social isolation and even lead to substance use.

In this post, we’ll look at the connection between social isolation and poor mental health and ways to build social connections and improve mental health.

What do these terms mean, exactly?

To start with, here we can explain what each of these terms means. That’s because each of these can have very different meanings, depending on who you ask.

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Social isolation means not having meaningful connections with others. It refers to issues such as being distant from friends and family, not going out and socializing, etc.

Poor mental health simply means suffering from any kind of mental health disorder. These can be anxiety, depression, and an array of other disorders.

Finally, both of these – and especially in combination – can lead to substance use. That’s when a person uses illicit drugs or abuses prescription and other legal drugs.

Dry branches next to a paper that reads “mental health.”
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What’s the connection between social isolation and poor mental health with
substance use?

With that in mind, it’s crucial to note a final term. That’s “dual diagnosis,”; the condition where an individual simultaneously has a substance use disorder and a mental health disorder.

That is the best example of how social isolation and poor mental health are linked to substance use disorders. Dual-diagnosis cases are increasingly common.

In truth, more than half of people with substance use disorders have at least one co-occurring mental health disorder.

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Moreover, research suggests that people with substance abuse problems are more likely to experience social isolation and poor mental health.

For this reason, addressing social isolation by leaning on community support during treatment is an effective rehab practice.

Individuals can build healthy relationships and access resources that promote recovery by providing a supportive environment during rehab.

That can help individuals break free from the cycle of addiction and work towards a healthier, happier life.

Social isolation is becoming very common

Of course, treating substance use is vital. It’s not the starting point, but the final one – for when social isolation and poor mental health lead to substance use. So, how common is social isolation becoming? According to many studies, very common.

Studies show that over 10% of adults report social isolation, with a higher prevalence in disadvantaged socioeconomic groups. That’s massive, and there are many reasons for it.

Social isolation is driven by technology, urbanization, and an aging population. Social media and technology use has also led to virtual connections that replace real-life interactions.

Urbanization specifically has led to more people living alone, reducing opportunities for social interaction. Therefore, many older adults are at higher risk for social isolation.

A depressed hooded man sitting alone outdoors. Social Isolation and Poor Mental Health
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Increasing rates of poor mental health in the developed world

Alongside more social isolation, poor mental health is also an increasingly common societal problem. That is, of course, related to the connection between the two, in no small part.

Poor mental health can affect an individual’s thoughts, emotions, and behavior, and it is becoming increasingly common in the developed world.

To put this in numbers, consider the following:

● The CDC says that in 2021, 42% of students experienced persistent sadness or hopelessness, and almost one-third had poor mental health.
● Similarly, NIMH reports that 5.5% of adults in the United States had a serious mental illness, with a higher prevalence among females.
● The APA also cites a national survey, which found that more than 60% of college students met the criteria for at least one mental health problem during the 2020-2021 school year.

That is, of course, tragic on a personal level. Dealing with social isolation and poor mental health can have a very negative impact on everyday life.

Mental health problems can also have consequences beyond the individual. Such as decreased productivity and increased healthcare costs.

The link between social isolation and poor mental health

So, how are the two connected? Down to their basics, it seems. One can lead to the other, and the two can damage the individual beyond measure.

Social isolation can lead to loneliness, depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems. All such problems can lead to further social isolation, and the two can often lead to substance use.

Here are some factors that contribute to social isolation and poor mental health:

  • Living alone
  • Lack of social support
  • Physical illness or disability
  • Low income
  • Discrimination

In addition, NAMI finds that social isolation can increase the risk of premature death by up to 50% and is associated with a higher risk of developing mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia.

The global pandemic has also made things worse than ever, NAMI continues. It reports that many people who have never had mental health disorders developed symptoms because of social isolation.

A depressed man indoors wearing a face mask.
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How can we address social isolation to improve mental health?

With all that said, what can we do about social isolation? It’s a simpler condition to address, so that’s where we should focus first.

Building social connections can be challenging, especially if you’re not very social. But you still have many options, like:

  • Join clubs or groups that align with your interests: This can be a great way to meet people who share your hobbies and passions.
  • Volunteer: Volunteering can provide a sense of purpose and a chance to meet new people.
  • Attend community events: Check your local community calendar for festivals, concerts, and fairs.
  • Connect with others online: Social media platforms, online forums, and other virtual communities can be a way to connect with others who share similar interests.
  • Contact friends and family: Call, text, or arrange a visit with loved ones.
  • Take up a new hobby or activity: Join a fitness class, learn a new skill, or take a course that interests you.
  • Seek professional help: A mental health professional can support and guide you on managing social isolation and improving mental health.

Remember, it’s important to take the first step toward addressing social isolation and to keep an open mind about new opportunities to connect with others.

A group of people joining hands outdoors. Social Isolation and Poor Mental Health
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Pinnable picture
Pinnable picture

So to summarize, the link between social isolation and poor mental health is complex and concerning. Social isolation, poor mental health, and substance use are intertwined and can lead individuals down a destructive spiral.

Therefore, individuals and communities must take action to address social isolation to help prevent mental health crises.

Building and maintaining social connections, seeking professional help when needed, and advocating for policies that support mental health and social connectedness can all make a difference.

It is time for us to recognize the impact of social isolation on mental health and take steps to address it to promote better health and well-being for all. Let’s work together to break the cycle of social isolation and mental health challenges.

Crystal Green

Monday 15th of May 2023

I do feel this is a very real issue. I have a friend who lives alone and has hardly any contact with the outside world. It definitely shows in how she carries herself. I know she suffers from mental health issues quite often too. I've tried to get her more involved in community and church activities, but she never wants to leave her home anymore.

Fransic verso

Wednesday 17th of May 2023

Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts.

Ali Duke

Friday 12th of May 2023

Great post, very helpful.


Tuesday 9th of May 2023

This is so true. When we isolate we can fall into dark mental places. However, being alone is essential as well. It is key to find the right balance and be aware of the signs of the mental struggles.

Fransic verso

Wednesday 10th of May 2023

Yeah, thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts!


Monday 8th of May 2023

It's hard for me as someone who loves being alone to find a balance, especially being an entrepreneur who can become a workaholic. It is important to remember that we are not alone in this. There are many people who are struggling with social isolation, and there are resources available to help us. If you are feeling isolated, please reach out for help. There is no shame in asking for help, and it could make a big difference in your life. (Like the TV commercial where the guy is lifting too-heavy weights, and won't let his spotter help him because he doesn't want to seem weak.)

Fransic verso

Tuesday 9th of May 2023

Yeah, we must reach for help. Thank you for reading and sharing this with us.

Ntensibe Edgar

Monday 8th of May 2023

Oohhh yes, the correlation between these two items is so clear. On my end, I feel so much better when I am laughing and chatting with people that I am close with. We all need to be socially entangled with other people.

Fransic verso

Tuesday 9th of May 2023

Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts.