Isolation and loneliness: What's the difference?


Girl sitting on the ledge, looking out on some trees.Some people use the words "isolation" and "loneliness" alternatively, but this does not reflect the true meaning of each term. Isolation can lead to loneliness and in some cases loneliness can aggravate isolation. Both have been found to occur with other mental health issues such as anxiety or depression.

Knowing how loneliness and isolation are separate and relevant can help people who struggle with them to cope better and work through these issues. Here are some things you need to know about handling loneliness and social isolation in your life.

The difference between isolation and loneliness

Social isolation occurs when a person has little or no contact with other people. It can happen in a long or short period of time and is a physical state. Isolation may in particular be characterized by:

  • Stay in their home more or all the year
  • By forbidding interpersonal interaction
  • Avoiding social situations

Isolation can have many negative emotional effects, such as increased sadness, anxiety, and loneliness. While isolation can cause loneliness, the two do not always happen together. People can be found regularly socially isolated as a side effect of an isolated mental health issue, such as social anxiety or agoraphobia. For example, someone with agoraphobia may feel very anxious to leave home some days.

Loneliness, on the other hand, is an emotional state. It is defined as feeling alone or separate from others, or as a feeling of being empty. Loneliness may accompany social isolation, but can be caused by other things, including holiday or divorce, moving to a new location or the death of a close friend or a loved one. Someone who has difficulty making friends can also experience frequent loneliness. In the case of mental health, loneliness can accompany depression, anxiety and many addictions and phobias.

Is isolation causing loneliness?

There are some cases in which isolation can lead to loneliness. Sometimes it is not around others for long periods of time can make people feel lonely. For example, if someone works from home, they can spend the whole day alone at home without much social contact, so they can feel lonely. Intimidation or alienation from a social group is also likely to cause loneliness.

Loneliness can sometimes lead to isolation. People who feel lonely for long periods of time may have difficulty in dealing with others in social situations. If it seems very difficult to find others or if the fear of rejection has been restored, people can be isolated to face their loneliness. The isolation-loneliness cycle often feeds itself, but does not provide relief or relief to the people who are stuck in it.

In some cases, isolation and feelings of loneliness can occur simultaneously without being caused by others. This usually means that other social, psychological or psychiatric factors may be involved.

How isolation and loneliness affect mental health

Isolation has been demonstrated in studies involving people with mental health problems. In some cases, such as when people have anxiety or depression, isolation can aggravate what may already feel like a strong symptom. This could be particularly true when depression and anxiety are usually relieved by social contact.

Prolonged loneliness can even lead to health problems. It has been shown that much time alone has an impact on the cognitive development of young people and leads to bad physical health habits. Sometimes feeling lonely for a long time can make people feel that caring for themselves is not worth the effort, and can give up eating or exercising.

Some other effects of isolation and loneliness that we have to pay attention to may include:

Loneliness may accompany social isolation, but can be caused by other things, including holiday or divorce, moving to a new location or the death of a close friend or a loved one.

When isolation and loneliness are symptoms

Sometimes loneliness and / or isolation are the main symptoms of a mental health problem. For example, if someone suddenly starts to move away from his friends and family, this could indicate that there are many possible issues. They could have depression or eating disorder, or they may be affected by an abusive relationship. Isolation can be a first sign of many mental health issues, so recognizing the unique context of each situation is crucial to understanding it.

Loneliness and isolation may be symptoms of the following mental health issues, including:

Risk factors for isolation and loneliness

As with any other subject, some people may be more prone to isolation and loneliness than others, although everyone can be isolated or feel lonely. People who have recently changed from traumatic life, living in a hectic home environment or who have seen or experienced domestic violence or abuse may be more prone to both solitude and isolation.

For example, a person who has recently divorced and moved to a new neighborhood may feel the absence of their former partner and community, causing them to be alone. In addition, an elderly person whose husband has died can be isolated in his daily life, which can lead to loneliness and poor health.

People living in abusive homes can be isolated because the shame of their environment makes them believe they can not talk to others about their lives. They can also feel strongly alone if they are worried that nobody will be able to relate to their experiences from their lives.

I get help

If you feel lonely or have a long-lived isolation experience, it can help you reach an authorized mental health professional who can provide support as you work through these struggles. Addressing prolonged loneliness and isolation can adversely affect your physical and mental well-being.

If there is a deeper mental health issue, causing the feelings of loneliness or isolation, the therapist can help deal with this issue and put you on the path to your best. Remember that you are not alone and there is no shame to ask for help.

Bibliographical references:

  1. Cherry, K. (2018, November 20). What you need to know about loneliness. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/loneliness-causes-effects-and-treatments-2795749
  2. Ge, L., Heng, B. H., Ong, R., & Yap, C. (2017, August 23). Social isolation, loneliness and their relationships with depressive symptoms: A demographic study. PLOS One. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0182145
  3. Hawthorne, G. (2008). Perceived social isolation in a community sample: Its prevalence and correlates with aspects of people's lives. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 43(2), 140-150. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-007-0279-8
  4. How to deal with loneliness. (2016). Retrieved from https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/loneliness/#.WzV1gxJKiRs
  5. Stickley, A., Koyanagi, A., Koposov, R., Schwab-Stone, M., & Ruchkin, V. (2014). Loneliness and health risk among teenagers in Russia and the US: Cross sectional study. BMC Public Health, 14, 366. Retrieved from http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/14/366
  6. What does loneliness do in your brain? (2018, June 27). Retrieved from https://www.seeker.com/videos/health/what-is-loneliness-doing-to-your-brain
  7. Williams, Y (n.d.). Social isolation: Definition, causes and effects. Retrieved from https://study.com/academy/lesson/social-isolation-definition-causes-effects.html




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