Human beings have a fundamental need to build and maintain social relationships. Moreover, it is not the quantity that counts, but the quality of the relationships that we have with those around us that is most impactful. Lasting and trusting relationships with others help keep us physically and mentally healthy. When we think of social isolation, we often think of the elderly. However, young people can also be particularly vulnerable to isolation. Moving cities, issues with self-image, feelings of failure in school, precariousness, illness... isolation is often the result of multiple factors and can have negative consequences on the health of young people.
What is isolation among youth?
Being isolated means being separated from others. Social isolation is the absence of regular social interaction. Isolation is different from loneliness, in the sense that a person is physically alone for long periods of time, whereas loneliness can also be experienced as a feeling. Indeed, it is possible to feel lonely even when surrounded by others, as one might feel misunderstood or ignored.
Feelings of isolation among young people increased dramatically during the global COVID-19 pandemic. Many young people were cut off from social activities. A significant number of youth also lost their jobs and found themselves in more precarious situations and separated from their support systems.
When it lasts over time, social isolation can lead young people into negative spiraling where withdrawal and feelings of worthlessness can make the situation worse. Ultimately, isolation damages the mental and physical health of young people. And because they are not surrounded by many people, finding help becomes more difficult, and may sometimes even feel impossible.
What are the reasons that lead young people to find themselves in a situation of isolation?
Social isolation is often the result of factors that accumulate over the course of an individual’s life. A chain of negative events in a young person's life can lead to progressive isolation.
Some of these events that are cited by youth include:
- Leaving their family for work or school;
- Geographic isolation when a young person moves into a city where they do not know anyone;
- Precariousness and bad living conditions;
- Insecurities about one’s body image;
- Health problems;
- Problems with harassment;
- Problems with mobility;
- A lack of romantic relationships.
In the case of the COVID-19 global pandemic, young people were isolated for long months. During this period, isolation among young people significantly increased. It was also noted that technology and social media, which were used to help youth stay connected and work and study from home, were not able to replace real human contact.
Once a young person's various social networks are gone, it is very difficult to rebuild them all at once. Rebuilding a network of friends, finding a new job and connecting with co-workers, getting involved in a social or sports activity... all of these social networks take time to develop. This explains in part why it is so difficult for a person to come out of isolation.
Being surrounded by our loved ones has strong effects on physical and mental health. When young people are not able to surround themselves with people they trust and feel safe with, it can cause negative effects on their health.
Social isolation among youth can increase their distrust of others, which makes it harder for them to trust and open up to people. With time, some youth start to feel like they are useless in society, which can negatively impact their self-esteem and their motivation. Due to these reasons, school drop-out rates among isolated youth are higher.
Isolation also has impacts on other aspects, such as:
- Cognitive problems (what is related to learning) ;
- Problems with concentration ;
- Difficulty with organization ;
- Feeling of great fatigue ;
- Physical pain ;
- Headaches ;
- Insomnia ;
- Problems with eating ;
- Anxiety ;
- Feelings of despair and powerlessness.
Psychological disorders can even go as far as depression and suicide attempts in the most intense cases.
If you need help or know someone who needs help, you can contact Jeunesse J’écoute. A person will be available everyday, 24/7 to speak with you. If you struggle with how to start a conversation or are not sure what to say, do not worry. The person will ask you some questions in order to start a conversation with you.
Breaking out of isolation or helping a loved one to socialize more is done one step at a time. Social activities such as sports associations, club activities (chess, photography, painting, etc.) are great places for one to socialize, meet new people and surround themselves with people who share their hobbies. You can ask a person who feels isolated to accompany you to an orientation event. You can also contact an association to ask about what they do without necessarily forcing yourself to get involved immediately.
Helping each other is also a great way to build relationships and to reinforce the ones you already have. It is not necessary to have a lot of friends in order to feel well surrounded. The most important thing is to have people in your life that you can trust and speak to. Helping a friend with their move, helping a family member during renovations, helping a friend do their groceries if they are feeling ill, etc. These are all acts of kindness that also reinforce friendships and relationships, and help to build long-lasting ones.
It is also a good idea to volunteer with an organization, to help in a community food bank or such. There also exist sport associations that invite groups of people to enjoy a sport together, where you can take advantage of nature with other like minded people.
Take a look at Arrondissement.com, which provides information about associations which exist in Quebec. You just need to look up your region in order to find a list of associations and activities that exist and operate near you.
LOVE supports youth to thrive through programs and healthy relationships that build emotional intelligence and help overcome the challenges they face. Our participants emerge from LOVE’s programs with greater resilience, heightened skills, and the confidence to be inspirational leaders.