The Effects of Social Isolation in Adolescence

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Most people are social beings. Having good relationships with others can make one feel “complete” — we naturally crave genuine human connections. Social interaction is considered a basic necessity, along with food, water, and shelter.

For children and teenagers, most social interactions take place at school. However, with the pandemic going on and the social distancing measures being implemented worldwide, it has become difficult to have physical interactions with friends and family. We are left with no choice but to go online for our social meetings.

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Thanks to social media, we can still communicate with our peers by using phones or computers. However, this also has its downsides. Too much exposure to gadgets leaves us vulnerable to physical health risks and emotional consequences.

In this article, you will be able to understand the effects of social isolation in adolescents and the effective measures to prevent them.

Social Media Feeds on Insecurity

Longer screen times are proven to affect our emotions. A study showed that 60% of people stated that using social media affected their self-esteem negatively. Moreover, around 51% said that social media made them feel more conscious about their physical appearances.

Instagram, for instance, causes young women to rely on validation through their posts’ likes and comments. They might become obsessed with checking like counts on their selfies, and feel pressured to “look good” on their posts to gain more praise. Because of this, Instagram drains people’s self-esteem by making them feel “not good enough” just because they only got five likes and no comments.

The loneliness and insecurity caused by social media have led to countless cases of social anxiety and depression among teenagers. As such, they tend to disconnect from the online world and eventually distance themselves from the real world as well, this might effect your teen health.

Social Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression

Social connections are essential for our mental wellness. The significant increase in people experiencing social isolation has made loneliness and depression be recognized as public health issues. The harmful effects of social isolation have shown the need to expand interventions and health policies to minimize their consequences.

The National Institutes of Health defines social isolation as the objective physical separation of a person from other people and is sometimes correlated with living alone. Loneliness is the subjective distressed feeling of separation. These two may be linked, but do not always coexist. Someone can be alone but not feel lonely, while someone else can feel lonely while surrounded by other people.

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Depression, on the other hand, is a more serious mental health condition. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, it is caused by severe negative feelings, emotions, and thoughts that affect one’s daily functioning.

Causes of Social Isolation

Social isolation may be a voluntary decision, or it may be caused by external factors. Here are several circumstances that cause people to be socially isolated. 

  • Social media use — Social media maintains allows people to stay connected despite being physically separated. It can become a substitute for meaningful socialization and relationships. At the same time, excessive social media use may cause adverse effects on someone’s mental well-being. Most social media users feel insecure about what they see or read on their pages.
  • Domestic violence — People in abusive relationships tend to avoid connections or contact with their friends or family. They fear the idea of revealing their situation with other people, so they disconnect from everyone.
  • Loss of loved ones — Mourning and isolating after the death of a loved one is common, especially when it comes to close friends and family.
  • Mental health issues — Mental health problems such as anxiety and depression may occur due to someone being socially distant, but at the same time, these issues may also cause social isolation.
  • Remote location — People living far away from their loved ones may experience social isolation. It may be due to a job assignment, own preferences, or health conditions.
  • Unemployment — Losing a job may cause shame and disappointment. It may also cause fear of not finding a new job. As such, unemployed individuals might isolate themselves from ex-colleagues, friends, and family.

Signs of Being Socially Isolated

Now that we have defined social isolation and enumerated its possible causes, how do we know if someone is, in fact, socially isolated? Below are the signs or symptoms of social isolation.

  • General lack of interest and social withdrawal — Withdrawing from social gatherings may be a sign of social isolation. Be on the lookout for someone who shows little to no interest in interacting with others, especially if they used to be outgoing or extroverted.
  • Poor hygiene and diet patterns — Failing to attend to one’s personal needs may mean that they no longer have an interest in maintaining their well-being and appearance. Skipping meals may be due to loss of appetite, or sometimes they just “don’t feel like it.”
  • Cluttered stuff at home — Having messy areas at home is another sign of being socially uninterested and isolated. Since they do not expect anyone else to come by their house, they do not want to clean up.
  • Confused thinking, delusions, and hallucinations — A lack of social interactions may negatively affect one’s mental wellness. Being alone and lonely at the same time may cause the brain to feel confused. Some people experience delusions and hallucinations while being socially isolated.
  • Abrupt mood swings — Sudden feelings of anger, fear, or joy are signs of someone being socially distant. These mixed emotions often manifest if they used to have social interactions in the past, but no longer do.
  • Depression — Mental health issues such as depression may cause social isolation. However, it may also be the other way around — social isolation may lead to depression. Having no one to reach out to shows that being isolated can damage someone’s mental well-being.
  • Substance use — Individuals may resort to substance use to cope with the loss of communication and connections.

Social Isolation Among Teenagers

Social deprivation has overwhelmingly adverse effects on teenagers’ mental health. Teens who feel socially isolated have trouble dealing with society. They lose their sense of belonging and feel like an outcast. Separating themselves from everyone becomes their coping mechanism for dealing with their issues.

The short-term effects may be chronic loneliness, depressive-like feelings, and sudden behavior changes due to a lack of empathy, togetherness, and self-confidence. Moreover, there are physical health risks as well, such as malnutrition or obesity. On the other hand, the long-term effects of social isolation are severe mental health issues, such as depression and suicidal thoughts.

The feeling of not being connected to anyone is powerful and is often detrimental to teenagers. Social isolation has become a significant risk factor for suicide and suicide attempts. Suicide cases have increased over time, reaching alarming records for the age group 10-24, making it the second most common cause of death among children, teens, and young adults. 

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry states that suicides are usually caused by significant mental health disorders, such as depression. These may also be associated with extreme feelings of loneliness, stress, self-doubt, loss, and disappointment. Although some cases of suicide are considered “impulsive,” it is undeniable that these teens and young adults bottle up their emotions and are neglected by their peers or family.

Prevent Loneliness and Social Isolation: The Need for Human Connection

Everyone needs human connections, especially adolescents who are just starting to develop their social skills. Maintaining healthy relationships with other children at school, family, or even in the neighborhood is essential. A lack of social connections may have negative consequences — one of which is the risk of being socially isolated.

As their parent, you are the first person your child would want to reach out to, especially if they are suffering from mental issues. But what are the ways to address your teen’s need for empowerment? Below are some simple ways to maintain a good relationship and connection with your teen to prevent loneliness and social isolation.

  • Get them outside — Have them meet new people. It could be anywhere, around the neighborhood, or in social groups and organizations. Let your teens interact with people of the same age group through indoor or outdoor activities such as art and music sessions, sports, and hiking.
  • Exercise — Maintaining physical health is one way to lessen the risk of loneliness and isolation. Even a simple 10-minute brisk walk can enhance mental awareness, mood, and energy. Exercising also reduces mental stress and anxiety.
  • Get a pet — Several research studies prove that owning a pet has significant positive effects on someone’s mental health. Interacting with dogs and cats boosts mood and lowers blood pressure, thus minimizing the body’s stress hormones.
  • Seek professional help — Aside from the social activities mentioned, it is also essential to reach out to someone who knows a professional approach to preventing loneliness and social isolation.

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Isolation can increase the risks of mental health issues, especially when developed at a young age. It is essential to seek the necessary measures to prevent it as early as you can. You must do your best to understand your child’s feelings and emotions. If your teen feels lonely and isolated, you can work on healthy ways to meet their needs for social connections.

However, not all teens are willing to open up about their thoughts and emotions. So, if you notice that your child shows some of the traits and symptoms mentioned above, it is necessary to seek professional help to understand what needs to be done. Remember that you are not alone. We are here to help your teen overcome this challenge.

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