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What do you do when your loved one says, “I just want to be alone?”
It was screen acting legend Greta Garbo who became famous for her line, “I want to be alone.” All of us at one time or another have a desire to spend some quiet time alone. Whether it’s to gather our thoughts, to relax, or to just not have to interact, alone time can be wonderful.
Wanting to be alone all the time is a very different issue. Someone who desires to isolate from others for a prolonged period, say weeks, is struggling with a mental health challenge. It is a sign that they need some emotional support of some kind, so it should not be ignored.
Why Does Someone Want to Be Alone?
Human beings are very social animals. We enjoy hanging out with friends, relatives, and colleagues. We thrive on interacting with others, on doing life together. So why would someone decide that they want to be left alone? Why would they choose to spend their time in solitude?
Of course, there are times when we all could use a brief timeout from socializing. Sometimes a little alone time is just what we need. The same holds true for those periods when we are navigating a loss or a setback, or when we are ill. Quiet time is preferred in those instances when you are feeling down and not up to chatting.
The desire to be alone becomes a concern when there is no life event or illness that would explain it. In this case, a mental health issue could be the culprit. In fact, there are several mental health disorders that feature withdrawing socially and isolating behaviors as a common symptom.
Isolating is a Mental Health Disorder Symptom
When someone you care about becomes a recluse by choice, it is right to be concerned about them. Many times this desire to be alone all the time is a sign of mental distress. Maybe you and others have tried to visit the person but your requests are rebuffed. If this is the case, it is time to guide them to a mental health expert who can evaluate them.
Mental health disorders that feature isolating behaviors:
- Social anxiety. Social anxiety features an intense fear of being judged or embarrassed in public. To avoid this perceived possibility, someone struggling with social anxiety often isolates from others.
- Panic disorder. Panic disorder features unpredictable, sporadic panic attacks that feel much like having a heart attack. Someone with panic disorder fears having the next one, and isolates to avoid anything that could trigger a panic attack.
- Phobia. Some types of phobias lead to isolating behaviors. Agoraphobia is one such phobia in which the person fears being unable to escape a building or crowded venue. As a way to avoid this from occurring they will just stay home.
- Depression. Depression symptoms often include persistent low mood and feelings of guilt and shame. Someone suffering from depression may not have the desire or energy to try to be social and will isolate instead.
- Personality Disorder. Some personality disorders, like borderline or avoidant, cause the person to have trouble with relating or bonding with people. They may lack self-confidence or have poorly developed social skills. This may lead to social isolation.
How Isolation Harms Mental Health
Isolation can take a toll on our mental and physical health. In fact, it has been shown that people who live all alone or have few sources of social interaction don’t live as long. We need that human exchange for optimum wellness. Some of the ways isolation harms wellness may include:
- Physical health effects. Because of the tight connection between mind and body, it makes sense that when one area of our being is compromised the other will be impacted as well. When people don’t have social time with loved ones it can lead to feelings of loneliness or abandonment. The psychological effects of isolation seep into our physical health, causing heart disease and stroke.
- Poor sleep quality. People who are isolating report having trouble sleeping. They have more restless sleep, or struggle to sleep enough hours to feel refreshed in the morning. This can result in foggy thinking, irritability, and fatigue during the day.
- Cognitive issues. Among the elderly, loneliness can lead to a faster decline in cognitive functioning. This happens because the person is not interacting with others, not sharing and conversing, which can lead to a decline in memory and diminished cognitive processing.
- Substance abuse. People who isolate may fill the void with a substance. A substance is used to self-medicate or to numb their feelings of boredom or loneliness.
- Psychosis. One of the more severe outcomes from isolating are the symptoms of psychosis. These symptoms of mental illness include hallucinations, delusions, and paranoid thoughts.
Getting Help for Someone Who Wants to Be Alone
Helping someone break out of isolation requires psychiatric support. Treatment for a mental health disorder will involve three prongs: medication, therapy, and holistic methods.
Meds: The drug will be based on the exact diagnosis. These can bring relief of the symptoms caused by the mental health issue. This helps the person to feel more comfortable out in public spaces or at social events.
Therapy: Evidence-based therapies, like CBT, exposure therapy, and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, can help break the thought distortions. EMDR and exposure therapy can help reduce the fear response.
Holistic: Learning ways to reduce anxiety can help someone get out of their isolation and begin mixing again. These might include mindfulness, deep breathing techniques, and guided meditation.
Does your loved one tell you, “I want to be alone?” Do they isolate in their room or house, not wanting any social interaction? These are signs of distress that can be addressed and managed through treatment. Get help today.
The Treatment Specialist Provides Mental Health Resources
The Treatment Specialist is an online resource for informative articles on mental health conditions and treatment options for adults, teens, and families. If you or a loved one is isolating socially, help is available. Reach out to us today at (866) 644-7911.