Social isolation refers to a complete or near-complete lack of contact with society for members of social species. It is usually involuntary, making it distinct from isolating tendencies or actions consciously undertaken by a person, all of which go by various other names. It is also not the same as loneliness rooted in temporary lack of contact with other humans. Social isolation can be an issue for anyone despite their age, each age group may show more symptoms than the other as children are different from adults.
Social isolation takes fairly common forms across the spectrum regardless of whether that isolation is self-imposed or is a result of a historical lifelong isolation cycle that has simply never been broken, which also does exist. All types of social isolation can lead to staying home for days or weeks at a time; having no communication with anyone including family or even the most peripheral of acquaintances friends; and willfully avoiding any contact with other humans when those opportunities do arise. Even when socially isolated people do go out into public and attempt social interactions, the social interactions that succeed — if any — are brief and at least somewhat superficial.
True social isolation over years and decades tends to be a chronic condition affecting all aspects of a person's existence. These people have no one to turn to in personal emergencies, no one to confide in during a crisis, and no one to measure their own behavior against or learn etiquette from — referred to sometimes as social control, but possibly best described as simply being able to see how other people behave and adapt oneself to that behavior. Lack of consistent human contact can also cause conflict with the (peripheral) friends the socially-isolated person might occasionally talk to, or might cause interaction problems with family members. It may also give rise to uncomfortable thoughts and behaviors within the person. Social isolation also affects the community, especially when it involves the elderly. Most of the time they are brought to nursing homes if they show severe signs of social isolation.
The day to day effects of this type of deep-rooted social isolation can mean staying home for days or even weeks at a time, both not contacting and not being contacted by any acquaintances (even peripherally), and not having contact with other people physically. It can also mean that, even if physical or other communicative contact with other people does occur, it is superficial, very occasional, and quite brief. More meaningful, extended relationships, and especially close intimacy (both emotional and physical) are all missing.
Social isolation is potentially both a cause and a symptom of emotional or psychological challenges. Two distinctive types, themselves harboring many subtypes, exist.
If social isolation in a particular person is lifelong, historical, patterned, unbroken, and chronic (i.e. from extremely young childhood all the way through full adulthood), it tends to perpetuate itself even if the person actually does not fundamentally desire to be alone, and sometimes even if the person also makes good-faith individual efforts to socialize.
If, on the other hand, social isolation has occurred as a life event rooted in feeling depressed, inadequate, or anxious, this is different from chronic lifelong alienation. Specific life episodes can lead us to self-isolate, and isolation can then increase the feelings of loneliness and depression, fear of other people, or even make a more negative self-image.
Social isolation is common among early adulthood. Some cases of this isolation can get extreme. Clear boundaries are more characterized when the ego part of the personality is fully developing. This personality component that Sigmund Freud proposed is defined as an idea of a person's self physically and mentally. Independence gives a sense of disconnection from others. During this time of development, a person may become more preoccupied with feelings and thoughts of their individuality that are not easy to share with other individuals. This can be a result from feelings of shame, guilt, or alienation during childhood experiences.
Whether new technologies such as the Internet and mobile phones exacerbate social isolation (of any origin) is a contested topic among sociologists. With the advent of online social networking communities, there are increasing options to do social activities that do not require real-world physical interaction. Chat rooms, message boards, and other types of communities are now meeting the need for those who would rather stay home alone, yet still develop communities of online friends. But those who oppose leading one's life primarily or exclusively online claim that virtual friends are not adequate substitutes for real-world friends, and research does suggest that individuals who substitute virtual friends for physical friends become even lonelier and more depressive than before.
Technology dependence is a problem in today's society. Not only can internet, phones, video game systems, etc. be an issue for interaction between beings but so can technology that is used for critical health issues. In a study conducted by Andrea Cockett, she focuses on children that are ventilator dependent and consequences that have been led by dependence upon technology. These technologies are keeping the children alive but also isolating them from what's beyond the hospital and home. Many parents agreed that home was the most appropriate place for their child to be cared for. However, children are being isolated from the outside world. This can lead to emotional burdens that enable a child to form a relationship with another being.
Social isolation can also have to do with mental disabilities. Individuals with learning impairments seem to have trouble with social interaction. Many professionals have always thought that social isolation that was experienced by a child with learning problems was an unintended consequence of the learning disability. They understood that the learning problem caused academic difficulties and that this caused rejection and isolation. They now recognize that these social problems that are being encountered by these children are actually the direct result of the learning disorder. The feeling of rejection makes a child unresponsive to an instruction. This is mostly common in a school environment where there are many peers surrounding.
Living alone can cause social isolation. According to a study that was conducted by Kimmo Herttua, Pekka Martikainen, Jussi Vahtera, and Mika Kivimäki, living alone can increase rates of being socially isolated and leading individuals to turn to alcoholic substances. Social isolation and living alone is increasingly common in other countries. This study focused mainly on alcohol mortality amongst people living alone in Finland. The researchers found that during a certain period of time about 2/3 of people that lived alone died from alcohol linked causes. It was not concluded that living alone is the main reason of alcoholic related mortality but it has increased the abuse of alcohol. Social isolation has contributed to the consequence of alcoholism which can cause more fatal consequences.
Grieving also contributes to social isolation. When losing a close one, it can cause difficulties with social interactions. For example, if an individual loses a spouse, they lose their social support. They now must find some other kind of support to help them through this fragile time. Studies have showed that widows that keep in contact with friends or relatives have better psychological health. A study conducted by Jung-Hwal Ha and Berit Ingersoll-Dayton concluded that widows that had a lot of social contact and interactions lead to fewer depressive symptoms. During a time of loss social isolation is not beneficial to an individual's mental health.
Although objective social isolation can affect perceived social isolation (loneliness), it is perceived isolation that is more closely related to the quality than quantity of social interactions. This is in part because loneliness is influenced by factors unrelated to objective isolation, including genetics, childhood environment, cultural norms, social needs, physical disabilities, and discrepancies between actual and desired relationships. Accordingly, perceived social isolation predicts various outcomes above and beyond what is predicted by objective isolation. Research by Cole and colleagues showed that perceived social isolation is associated with gene expression — specifically, the under-expression of genes bearing anti-inflammatory glucocorticoid response elements and over-expression of genes bearing response elements for pro-inflammatory NF-κB/Rel transcription factors. This finding is paralleled by decreased lymphocyte sensitivity to physiological regulation by the hypothalamic pituitary adrenocortical (HPA) axis in lonely individuals, which together with evidence of increased activity of the HPA axis, suggests the development of glucocorticoid resistance in chronically lonely individuals.
Throughout the past two decades social isolation has increased causing family interaction and communication to decrease. Individuals lack the feeling of being able to approach others in order to find comfort, seek advice or physically and emotionally network with.
Further causes 
Among the elderly, childlessness can be a cause for social isolation. Whether their child is deceased or they didn't have children at all, the loneliness that comes from not having a child can cause social isolation. Also connected with the elderly is the idea of retirement and how they lose friends and social interactions since they aren't working anymore.
Risk factors 
The following are risk factors contribute to reasons why individuals distance themselves from society. They include attractiveness, an individual's or family's economic status, overall repair and maintenance, health and living arrangements.
- Health and Disabilities: People may be embarrassed by their disabilities or health issues so they have a tendency to isolate themselves to avoid social interaction out of fear that they would be judged.
- Loss of a Spouse: Once a spouse has died, the other person may feel lonely.
- Living Alone: People are automatically alone which can result in sadness or even depression. This causes extreme social isolation.
- Aging: Once a person reaches an age where issues such as cognitive impairments and disabilities arise, they are unable to go out and be social.
- Transportation Issues: If the person doesn't have transportation to attend gatherings or to simply get out of the house, they have no choice but to stay home all day which can lead to those feelings of depression.
- Desire to avoid the discomfort arising from being among people. This can happen if other people are sometimes rude, hostile, crude or otherwise unpleasant. The person would just prefer to be alone to avoid the hassles of dealing with people.
According to James House, when it comes to physical illness, "The magnitude of risk associated with social isolation is comparable with that of cigarette smoking and other major biomedical and psychosocial risk factors. However, our understanding of how and why social isolation is risky for health — or conversely — how and why social ties and relationships are protective of health, still remains quite limited."
The research of Brummett shows that social isolation is unrelated to a wide range of measures of demographic factors, disease severity, physical functioning, and psychological distress. Hence, such factors cannot account for or explain the substantial deleterious effects of social isolation.
However, they also show that isolated individuals report fewer interactions with others, fewer sources of psychological/emotional and instrumental support, and lower levels of religious activity. The obvious question is whether adjusting for one or more of these factors reduces the association of social relationships/isolation with health, and which factors constitute the active ingredient in social isolation producing its deleterious effects on health.
There are things people can do to help those who are socially isolated. According to Boufford, "many cities, with encouragement from the World Health Organization, are developing age-friendly initiatives for all seniors, regardless of their location. Specifically, they seek to improve transportation, housing, social inclusion, community support and health services." In addition, paying attention to the person who is socially isolated can make a difference. Taking a day to spend time with someone can change their perspective on life.
A common sense notion frequently expressed is that social relationships beneficially affect health, not only because of their supportiveness, but also because of the social control that others exercise over a person, especially by encouraging health-promoting behaviors such as adequate sleep, diet, exercise, and compliance with medical regimens or by discouraging health-damaging behaviors such as smoking, excessive eating, alcohol consumption, or drug abuse. Another hypothesis is that social ties link people with diffuse social networks that facilitate access to a wide range of resources supportive of health, such as medical referral networks, access to others dealing with similar problems, or opportunities to acquire needed resources via jobs, shopping, or financial institutions. These effects are different from support in that they are less a function of the nature of immediate social ties but rather of the ties these immediate ties provide to other people. Also, social isolation can sometimes go hand in hand with mental illness because of behaviors mentioned beforehand.
Yet another hypothesis proposed by Cacioppo and colleagues is that the isolation of a member of social species has deleterious biological effects. In a 2009 review, Cacioppo and Hawkley noted that the health, life, and genetic legacy of members of social species are threatened when they find themselves on the social perimeter. For instance, social isolation decreases lifespan in the fruit fly; promotes obesity and Type 2 diabetes in mice; exacerbates infarct size and edema and decreases post-stroke survival rate following experimentally induced stroke in mice; promotes activation of the sympatho-adrenomedullary response to an acute immobilization or cold stressor in rats; delays the effects of exercise on adult neurogenesis in rats; decreases open field activity, increases basal cortisol concentrations, and decreases lymphocyte proliferation to mitogens in pigs; increases the 24 hr urinary catecholamines levels and evidence of oxidative stress in the aortic arch of rabbits; and decreases the expression of genes regulating glucocorticoid response in the frontal cortex of piglets.
A person showing the following signs may be socially isolated: depression, mental disorder, mood disorder, inability to connect with others, refusal to leave the house, and avoiding people in addition to being anxious, nervous and keeping the door closed to lessen others ability to reach them.
See also 
- Emotional isolation
- Stigma management
- Social exclusion
- Social stigma
- Social networking
- Unknown Author. Isolation. (12-20-2011). Retrieved 04-19, 2012, from /therapy-for-isolation.html
- Social Isolation Among Seniors: An Emerging Issue. British Columbia Ministry of Health. 2004.
- Newman, Barbara M.; Newman, Philip R. (2011). "Isolation". Development Through Life: A Psychosocial Approach. Wadsworth. p. 469. ISBN 978-1-111-34466-5 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK].
- Cockett, Andrea (2012). "Technology dependence and children: A review of the evidence". Nursing Children and Young People 24 (1): 32–5. PMID 22489372.
- Lavoie, Rick (2007). "Helping the socially isolated child make friends".
- Herttua, Kimmo; Martikainen, Pekka; Vahtera, Jussi; Kivimäki, Mika (2011). "Living Alone and Alcohol-Related Mortality: A Population-Based Cohort Study from Finland". In Brayne, Carol. PLoS Medicine 8 (9): e1001094. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001094. PMC 3176753. PMID 21949642.
- Ha, Jung-Hwa; Ingersoll-Dayton, Berit (2011). "Moderators in the relationship between social contact and psychological distress among widowed adults". Aging & Mental Health 15 (3): 354–63. doi:10.1080/13607863.2010.519325. PMC 3095214. PMID 21491220.
- Cacioppo, John T.; Hawkley, Louise C. (2009). "Perceived social isolation and cognition". Trends in Cognitive Sciences 13 (10): 447–54. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2009.06.005. PMC 2752489. PMID 19726219.
- Cole, Steve W; Hawkley, Louise C; Arevalo, Jesusa M; Sung, Caroline Y; Rose, Robert M; Cacioppo, John T (2007). "Social regulation of gene expression in human leukocytes". Genome Biology 8 (9): R189. doi:10.1186/gb-2007-8-9-r189. PMC 2375027. PMID 17854483.
- McPherson, Miller; Smith-Lovin, Lynn; Brashears, Matthew E. (2006). "Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks over Two Decades". American Sociological Review 71 (3): 353–75. doi:10.1177/000312240607100301. JSTOR 30038995. Lay summary – Washington Post (June 23, 2006).
- Bachrach, Christine A. (1980). "Childlessness and Social Isolation among the Elderly". Journal of Marriage and Family 42 (3): 627–37. doi:10.2307/351906. JSTOR 351906.
- Blau, Zena Smith (1961). "Structural Constraints on Friendships in Old Age". American Sociological Review 26 (3): 429–39. doi:10.2307/2090670. JSTOR 2090670.
- Cacioppo, John T.; Hawkley, Louise C. (2003). "Social Isolation and Health, with an Emphasis on Underlying Mechanisms". Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 46 (3): S39–52. doi:10.1353/pbm.2003.0049. PMID 14563073.
- House, James S. (2001). "Social Isolation Kills, But How and Why?". Psychosomatic Medicine 63 (2): 273–4. PMID 11292275.
- Brummett, Beverly H.; Barefoot, John C.; Siegler, Ilene C.; Clapp-Channing, Nancy E.; Lytle, Barbara L.; Bosworth, Hayden B.; Williams Jr, Redford B.; Mark, Daniel B. (2001). "Characteristics of Socially Isolated Patients With Coronary Artery Disease Who Are at Elevated Risk for Mortality". Psychosomatic Medicine 63 (2): 267–72. PMID 11292274.
- Boufford, Jo Ivey (December 21, 2009). "Helping the Rural Elderly". The New York Times.
- Nonogaki, K.; Nozue, K.; Oka, Y. (2007). "Social Isolation Affects the Development of Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes in Mice". Endocrinology 148 (10): 4658–66. doi:10.1210/en.2007-0296. PMID 17640995.
- Apfelbeck, Beate; Raess, Michael (2008). "Behavioural and hormonal effects of social isolation and neophobia in a gregarious bird species, the European starling (Sturnus vulgaris)". Hormones and Behavior 54 (3): 435–41. doi:10.1016/j.yhbeh.2008.04.003. PMID 18514197.
- Lowenthal, Marjorie Fiske (1964). "Social Isolation and Mental Illness in Old Age". American Sociological Review 29 (1): 54–70. doi:10.2307/2094641. JSTOR 2094641.
Further reading 
- Gusmano, M. K., & Rodwin, G. R. (2006). The elderly and social isolation. Testimony to Committee on Aging, 2-5. Retrieved from http://wagner.nyu.edu/faculty/testimony/rodwinNycCouncil021106.pdf
- Elkin, Frederick (1960). The Child and Society: The Process of Socialization. New York: Random House.
- House, James S. (2001). "Social Isolation Kills, But How and Why?". Psychosomatic Medicine 63 (2): 273–4. PMID 11292275.
- Iliardi, Stephen. "Social Isolation: A Modern Plague". Psychology Today. Retrieved March 8, 2012.
- Sayburn, Anna. "Social isolation-the unrecognized killer". Retrieved 2010.
- Svensson, Cheryl. "Social Isolation: The need to turn to one another".
- Wharton, Billy. "How Social Isolation Kills". Retrieved March 8, 2012.
- Sayburn, Anna. (2010). Social isolation-the unrecognized killer. Consumer News. Retrieved on March 8, 2012 from, http://news.consumerreports.org/health/2010/08/health-risks-of-loneliness-social-isolation-the-unrecognized-killer.html
- Svensson, Cheryl. (2005). Social Isolation: The need to turn to one another. Meeting the Challenges Quarterly.
- Wharton, Billy. (2012). How Social Isolation Kills. Dissident Voice. Retrieved on March 8, 2012 from, http://dissidentvoice.org/2012/02/how-social-isolation-kills/