AN INVISIBLE EPIDEMIC

UNDERSTANDING SOCIAL ISOLATION

What is Social Isolation?

Social isolation is defined as a lack of social connections. Public health research shows that social isolation manifests in youth as depression, anxiety, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and an increased risk of substance abuse. Social isolation is especially acute among students who are perceived as “different” because of their physical appearance, disability, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious beliefs, or other characteristics.

Our world has become increasingly intolerant and divided. We believe the youth of this generation have the power and natural motivation to turn that around and make a difference, starting with how they treat one another at school and on social media.

At Beyond Differences we define social isolation as a lack of quality connections. Being socially and emotionally disconnected from others.

We see this in 3 ways:

  • Physical Social Isolation – Being physically separated from others. It is objective, the number of people we have, or do not have around us.
  • Loneliness – which is subjective, it is the gap between what we desire for social connections and what we are actually experiencing.
  • Social Isolation (not seen) – We also define social isolation as being in the same physical space as others, but being alienated, invisible, not seen. In our opinion this is the most insidious kind of social isolation. This is at the core of the work that we do and why Beyond Differences began.

Beyond Differences signature Social Emotional Learning (SEL) programs and professional development offerings for educators aim to spot loneliness and social Isolation and help to intervene and ensure that all students have a sense of belonging and connection.

Loneliness

Loneliness is the feeling of being alone, regardless of the amount of social contact. Social isolation is a lack of social connections. Social isolation can lead to loneliness in some people, while others can feel lonely without being socially isolated. Solitude is not the same as loneliness. Solitude is when someone takes pleasure in being alone. Practicing solitude is an antidote to loneliness.

 

Signs of Chronic Loneliness
  • Inability to connect with others on a deeper level.
  • No close or “best” friends.
  • Overwhelming feeling of isolation regardless of where you are and who’s around.
  • Like being trapped in a bubble.
  • Negative feelings of self-doubt and self-worth.
  • When you try to connect or reach out, it’s not reciprocated, and you’re not seen or heard.
  • Exhaustion when trying to engage socially.

Evolutionary speaking, being connected to others is how we survived. When we feel lonely or socially disconnected, our brain goes into fight or flight mode. Not only do we feel unhappy when we feel lonely, but we also feel unsafe. When this happens, we turn more inward and may become fearful or suspicious of others and see threats where there are none. This heightened sense of fight or flight increases our cortisol levels, which impacts our sleep, weakens our immune system, and leaves us more susceptible to viruses and other illnesses.

Social Isolation During the COVID-19 Pandemic

“While social isolation and loneliness were prevalent in the population prior to COVID-19, efforts to reduce the virus’ spread via stay-at-home orders, quarantine, and social distancing recommendations have exacerbated an already serious problem.”

SF Chronicle Chart

Article on Health Affairs.org The Double Pandemic Of Social Isolation And COVID-19: Cross-Sector Policy Must Address Both

*VIDEO: Loneliness Gone Viral: The Public Health Crisis of Social Isolation

*Featuring Dr. Vivek Murthy, Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Raul Perea-Henze, Deputy Mayor of Health and Human Services for the City of New York, and Lori Gottlieb, psychotherapist, author, and columnist for The Atlantic, in conversation with Ruth Katz, Executive Director of the Aspen Institute’s Health, Medicine and Society program.

Dr. Vivek Murthy

Dr. Vivek Murthy, 19th Surgeon General of the United States, (and President Biden’s current nominee) makes a case for loneliness as a public health concern: a root cause and contributor to many of the epidemics sweeping the world today from alcohol and drug addiction to violence to depression and anxiety.

Loneliness, he argues, is affecting not only our health, but also how our children experience school, and the sense of division and polarization in our society.

In Dr. Murthy’s book  Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World, featuring a chapter on Beyond Differenceshe writes that 46% of students reported seeing or feeling social isolation weekly and that many students were feeling social isolation the strongest online.

Many people described what they were feeling as a lack of belonging.

New York City Research Study:

In 2019, Beyond Differences completed a year-long study in collaboration with ten NYC public schools. Dr. Dabney Ingram, education research & evaluation consultant led the study. The theory examined was, “to what extent does our programming improve key indicators of change – including measures of social isolation/loneliness, Social Emotional Learning, student leadership & youth voice – within one school year?” The results were exciting and our organization has incorporated the findings into our new 3-year strategic plan.

Funded by the Einhorn Family Charitable Trust.

Kelli Harding MD, MPH

As described in The Rabbit Effect, ample scientific evidence shows belonging and connection are critical to human health and well-being. Beyond Differences beautifully transforms research into reality to create a world where every child is accepted, valued, and included by peers.”

Program Implementation Research Study

Research shows that feeling socially isolated at school negatively affects students’ mental health, physical health, and academic performance. This can include poor self-esteem, anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts and actions, increased risk of substance abuse, higher risk of poor physical health, and increased mortality.

In partnership with Beyond Differences, Doctors Dabney Ingram and Rebecca London compiled research that indicates social isolation has long-term effects.

2014-2015 Program Implementation Research Study

Research shows that feeling socially isolated at school negatively affects students’ mental health, physical health, and academic performance. This can include poor self-esteem, anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts and actions, increased risk of substance abuse, higher risk of poor physical health, and increased mortality.

In partnership with Beyond Differences, Drs. Dabney Ingram and Rebecca London compiled research that indicates social isolation has long-standing effects.

“I think every kid has had an experience where they felt left out, or they felt hurt…. When you let kids know they can be a power to change that for other kids, I think it sets up–not just in middle school, but for our community, for our society over time–the catalyst for much larger impact.”

- School District Superintendent

In Our Students’ Own Words