People with Severe Mental Illness are the Most Isolated Social Group

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Think about what it would be like to spend most of your time alone because being around other people is just too difficult. You feel that others are judging you for your mental illness, and so you are scared to face the world. You withdraw to avoid this stigmatization. This social withdrawal is emotionally very costly. But this is a two-way street โ€” the mentally ill withdraw from societyโ€“society withdraws from them.

An Australian survey reported that two-thirds of people affected by a mental illness feel lonely โ€œoftenโ€ or โ€œall of the timeโ€. The research says in contrast, just 10 per cent of the general population reported feelings of loneliness. (1)

Social relationships are important for anyone in maintaining health, but for the mentally ill it is especially important. People with mental illness value contact with family. But families may be unwilling to interact with their mentally ill family member. Social isolation is also sometimes due to the unwillingness of others to befriend the mentally ill. The public may avoid them altogether. The stigma associated with mental illness creates huge barriers to socialization.

People with severe mental illness are probably the most isolated social group of all. They are judged, disrespected and made into pariahs. They fear rejection from others, who may be afraid of the mentally ill, so the mentally ill person may feel overwhelmed by the thought of attempting to form new friendships. Just avoiding any contact is often the choice. Or, they may make a great effort to conceal their condition from others, which results in additional stress from worrying about their true condition being discovered.

It is sometimes the case that the severely mentally ill person becomes homeless. This in itself is isolating, and they then must suffer the double stigmatization of being homeless as well as mentally ill. (Elise Dobbe)

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