Human beings are social creatures and thus have evolved a need for social interaction. Since we needed each other to survive, we evolved concepts such as altruism and empathy. These were important in shaping us into who we are now and are why we are so successful as a species. Even those who are introverted still need social interaction, just in smaller and easier-to-manage doses.
With the pandemic saw quarantine procedures that have lasted months and even years. Most people were able to cope with this by relying on the internet to connect with fellow people. However, it doesn’t replace the need for person-to-person contact offline. As a result, there are now children who grew up during quarantine and don’t know how to interact socially with other children. Some people have developed mental health disorders due to extreme loneliness due to isolation. But why do we need to interact with other people so much? Why is this such a big deal?
What Happens to the Human Mind Without Social Interaction
The reason why we need social interaction so much is that we need it to grow. Our brain is constantly changing as we experience new things in life. This is a form of neuroplasticity, which helps the brain form new connections and learn from life experiences. When we interact with other people, our brain learns very important skills that we use for the rest of our lives. With each new memory or experience, we grow and keep our minds sharp and active. Plus, it feels good to interact with others. It’s normal to form close attachments with people we love, who then in return give us support and love in return.
That all stops when someone is socially isolated. It’s difficult to learn new things or form new memories when you are stuck inside performing the same routine over and over again. The mind and, subsequently, mental health can and will quickly decline after a period of isolation. A person may lose the ability to regulate sleep. It may become harder to remember or recall information. Someone might feel as though they are trapped in a fog in their mind. These are all scary things to experience, so people often develop depression or anxiety in response to it.
Loneliness and isolation are painful things for a human to experience, and sometimes it may become severe enough for someone to think about suicide. Without a support network, there is nobody to help or encourage someone to get help when a burden becomes too great. This is why it’s important to keep an eye on those who are at the most risk for social isolation.
Who Is at Most Risk for Social Isolation?
Someone can be socially isolated in a crowded room. Loneliness or isolation isn’t just being physically separated from other people. It also means being emotionally isolated or unable to form emotional connections with other people. Some groups of people statistically are more at risk for loneliness or isolation compared to other groups. These groups include:
Elderly people often outlive friends and family or struggle with debilitating conditions like Alzheimer’s or chronic health complications like hearing loss. More often than not, elderly people need care in specialized facilities or live alone. This causes many to feel pushed to the side or forgotten. The elderly are generally considered to be most at risk for social isolation and loneliness.
Those new to any country often struggle with social isolation. The biggest hurdle is language, and English is considered to be one of the more difficult languages to learn. Discrimination is another large factor, and it’s common for ‘others’ in society to be excluded, even subconsciously. It’s difficult to make friends when some people may not even bother with trying to understand you or your culture.
Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer communities (LGTBQIA+) face intense social stigma and discrimination. Many members of this community struggle with long waitlists for medical and mental health care. Most are afraid to form open social connections for fear of it being used to hurt them in the future. As a result, many stick to very small communities online for safety.
People with developmental disorders like autism spectrum disorder (ASD) struggle greatly with social interactions. In the case of Autism, it can be hard for those with it to grasp social cues, which can make interacting with people stressful. It can cause many people with this disorder to isolate themselves than deal with the pain of trying to fit into a society that they have trouble understanding.
Where to Find Social Interaction in a Post-lockdown Society
Perhaps the best place to look for social interaction is by signing up with a support group, club, or hobby. Finding those who like the same things you do or who struggle with similar issues to yourself can help you form emotionally satisfying connections.
Libraries tend to have meeting places for clubs and hobbies that a person can sign up for. Local community centers often offer the same. Hospitals and mental health care facilities tend to have bulletin boards with local support group information.
Volunteering is another great way to interact with people while doing something positive for the world. Local charities and shelters are always looking for help. Not only are you helping, but you get to experience something new as well.
Checking online can also reveal resources for clubs and support groups that meet up in your area. Be sure to stay safe, and have first meetings in a visible public space.
If you feel as though you need help learning how to navigate social situations, call your local mental health care facility. A mental healthcare professional can help teach you skills you will need to interact with others healthily. It’s always okay to ask for help, no matter what.
Humans are highly social creatures and require having a social circle to stay mentally healthy. Being isolated and alone can take a large toll on our mental fortitude. Said fortitude can be chipped away at until we fall into loneliness and despair. Here at Acera Health in Costa Mesa, California, we understand the mental health disorders that can result from social isolation and are fully prepared to treat them. Nobody should have to struggle with their mental health alone. Accepting help is the first step to taking back your life. If you or someone you love is struggling with a mental health disorder and is in need of help, call (949) 647-4090 to speak to a professional today.
Melody is a highly skilled proactive clinical administrator, with more than 17 years of experience serving the community in the behavioral health field.
Her clinical management career started in 2011 as a compliance manager and program director. In 2018, she became an executive as chief clinical officer (CCO). She is a seasoned licensed marriage & family therapist.