Difficult experiences can be harder to cope with when it feels like no one, not even family or friends, understands what you went through. Connecting with other Veterans and reaching out for support can help to overcome isolation and increase enjoyment of life.
What is social withdrawal or social isolation?
Do you spend more and more time alone because you think that no one understands what you’ve experienced or what you’re going through? Are you avoiding social situations because you might be reminded of things you don’t want to remember? These can be signs of social withdrawal or social isolation.
Social withdrawal is avoiding people and activities you would usually enjoy; for some people, this can progress to a point of social isolation, where you may even want to avoid contact with family and close friends and just be by yourself most of the time. You may want to be alone because you feel it’s tiring or upsetting to be with other people. Sometimes a vicious cycle can develop where the more time you spend alone, the less you feel like people understand you, and the less you feel like people understand you, the more time you want to spend alone.
Some Veterans show signs of social withdrawal or social isolation while transitioning from military to civilian life or at other times of change in their lives. Other Veterans and Service members may have been avoiding other people and activities for a long time and have become uncomfortable being around other people more generally.
People who have experienced traumatic events—of a military or nonmilitary nature—sometimes withdraw or isolate themselves. Social withdrawal and social isolation can make it difficult to do the things you normally would enjoy or sometimes make it hard to get through the day. Some of the effects of isolation can include feelings of loneliness, alcohol or drug problems, and trouble sleeping. Left unchecked, social withdrawal or isolation can lead to or be associated with depression.
If I’m withdrawing from others or isolating myself, what can I do about it right away?
“I spent a majority of my first year back alone and not in a good place. I was lucky that someone saw that I was hurting, could relate to where I was coming from, and forced me to get some help. It was the best thing that could have happened to me at that time.”
Allowing social withdrawal or social isolation to continue unchecked will only make your situation more challenging, so it’s important to address what’s causing you to want to be alone. Although it may be the last thing you feel like doing, it is important to reach out to your family, friends, or fellow Veterans. Reestablishing or increasing contact can help you feel less isolated, and can be good for your well-being. Research shows that spending time talking with family or friends can make you feel better and has a positive effect on your health. In addition to family or friends, you may find it especially helpful to connect with Veterans’ groups, or participate in clubs or hobbies focused on something that you like.
Take the next step – Make the connection.
Every day, Veterans who served in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard connect with useful resources and effective treatments for dealing with social withdrawal and social isolation. If withdrawal and isolation are affecting your health and well-being or getting in the way of your relationships, work, or daily activities, you may want to reach out for support. Consider connecting with:
Your family doctor: Ask if your doctor has experience treating Veterans or can refer you to someone who does
A mental health professional, such as a therapist
Your local VA Medical Center or Vet Center: VA specializes in the care and treatment of Veterans
A spiritual or religious advisor
Explore these resources for more information about social withdrawal and social isolation in Veterans.
Learn more about the possible associations between social withdrawal and social isolation and other issues such as trouble sleeping, depression, and posttraumatic stress.
Read about the connection between PTSD and social isolation, and explore useful steps to take for anyone dealing with isolation.
If you are a combat Veteran or experienced any sexual trauma during your military service, bring your DD214 to your local Vet Center and speak with a counselor or therapist—many of whom are Veterans themselves—for free, without an appointment, and regardless of your enrollment status with VA.
VA Medical Center Facility Locator
Social withdrawal and isolation may be symptoms of other health issues that may need attention. This website will allow you to search for VA programs located near you. If you are eligible to receive care through the Veterans Health Administration, you can enroll in one of VA’s treatment programs.