Socialization has been an essential part of humanity’s survival, dating back to the very first humans. Despite being widely regarded as the most intelligent and capable living organism on the planet, humans can only function for so long solely on their intellect.In fact, Mayo Clinic psychologist Dr. Craig Sawchuk states, “We are social animals by nature, so we tend to function better when we’re in a community and being around others” (Williams, 2019). However, some find it more difficult than others to socialize — so much so that it feels as if there is absolutely no one they can interact with. This is especially the case during the current COVID-19 global pandemic as its early stages forced the world into quarantine and further complicated socialization for those who were already struggling with it previously. Although the psychological impacts of social isolation are fairly well known, they are understood by few because some people may take it for granted and brush it off as an issue that can be easily fixed. Thus, it’s of high importance to outline the effects, both psychological and physiological, of social isolation and how the issue has been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
When social isolation manifests in an individual, their world begins to darken and feel hopeless to live in. We currently live in an era where many people have little to no interest in an outsider’s life. This trait is linked to French sociologist Émile Durkheim’s grand theory of social solidarity, in which our modern world substantially resembles organic solidarity. In his influential theory, Durkheim postulated that people of modern society are living in an interdependent relationship with one another, which defines the term organic solidarity; in other words, they rely on each other to carry out their own respective specialized tasks for the sake of their survivability. This suggests people are not very interested in forming a meaningful connection with the many other people they live with. For that reason, it can be difficult for those feeling socially isolated to establish a sense of belonging within a community. Multiple studies have shown that the following phenomena are related to social isolation: thoughts and attempts of suicide, low sleep quality, low control of eating habits, increasing levels of stress, limited attention span, and increasing incapability of conducting complex tasks (Brennan, 2021). Moreover, the effects of social isolation can also cause complications with one’s overall physical health; scarce social connections are associated with an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease and having a stroke (Valtorta et al., 2016). Social isolation is a multi-dimensional issue that is not very simple to resolve because each individual has their own reason for feeling like it’s impossible to interact with others.
This issue can especially be related to the COVID-19 pandemic because of the many social restrictions that have been placed to prevent the virus from spreading. While it scientifically makes sense to enforce these limitations, it was an immediate given that more people would suffer from feelings of being socially isolated because of said restrictions. 1006 Italian citizens participated in a 2020 study that indicated forced isolation for even a short period of time is related to mental health issues (Pancani et al., 2020). It is important to note that this study does not necessarily align with the norm scholars expect social isolation to occur, which is in those who have experienced tremendous social stress (i.e. rejection, bullying) over a long period of time. However, there were two points that could potentially explain why social isolation during COVID-19 induced mental health problems: one is that the pandemic itself may have installed a sense of fear in the general public that makes them believe their own life is being threatened, and the other is that the enforced isolation could be seen as excessive by those who perceive COVID-19 to be trivial. Unlike any past pandemics humanity has experienced, COVID-19 poses a multitude of issues that extends beyond the natural sciences (mainly biological). To reiterate, it would be a challenge to establish a collective cause of social isolation since the current pandemic has added a layer of complexity and uncertainty to the nature of social isolation.
Those who actively engage with others socially reap its benefits by diluting any feelings of loneliness, sharpening memory and cognitive skills, promoting happiness and well-being, and even likely increasing life expectancy (Williams, 2019). Though the upsides of having social connections are great and something everyone would like to benefit from, it certainly is much easier said than done to become socially active. As previously explored, some people may find it immensely challenging to jump into socialization because their experience of social isolation may be too deeply rooted to the point that it may take a long time to observe any positive change. Times have changed, and the COVID-19 pandemic definitely has not made life any easier for all of us. However, it is important to let others know that they are not alone and there is someone in the world that truly cares for their wellbeing. Even if change is not immediately noticeable, making yourself physically and emotionally available to someone in need of social support can make the greatest difference in their life. If you cannot stand to see someone suffer from social isolation or any mental health issues in general, why not be the change you wish to see in the world?
Brennan, D. (2021, November 11). How social isolation impacts mental health and how you can cope. WebMD. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/social-isolation-mental-health
Pancani, L., Marinucci, M., Aureli, N., & Riva, P. (2020). Forced social isolation and mental health: A study on 1006 Italians under COVID-19 quarantine. PsyArXiv Preprints, 10.
Valtorta, N. K., Kanaan, M., Gilbody, S., Ronzi, S., & Hanratty, B. (2016). Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for coronary heart disease and stroke: systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal observational studies. Heart, 102(13), 1009-1016.
Williams, V. (2019). Mayo Clinic Minute: The benefits of being socially connected. Retrieved from https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/mayo-clinic-minute-the-benefits-of-being-socially-connected/