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What is social withdrawal or social isolation?

Are you spending increasingly more time alone because you think 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 hope to forget? Do you avoid others because you feel you should be able to deal with challenges on your own? 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.

“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.”

Some Veterans show signs of social withdrawal or social isolation while transitioning from military to civilian life or during other major life changes. 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 — whether or not as part of military service — also sometimes withdraw or isolate themselves.

Social withdrawal and social isolation can make it difficult to do the things you normally would enjoy or to get through the day. Some effects of this isolation can include loneliness, relationship problems, alcohol or drug problems, and trouble sleeping. Left unchecked, social withdrawal or isolation can lead to or be associated with depression. Such behavior can also negatively affect those you care about.

If I’m withdrawing from others or isolating myself, what can I do about it right away?

Allowing social withdrawal or social isolation to continue unchecked will only make your situation more challenging. When you find yourself demonstrating antisocial behavior, it's important to:

  • Address what's causing you to want to be alone.
  • Reach out to your friends or family members even though it may be the last thing you feel like doing. Research shows that spending time talking with family or friends improves your mood and has a positive effect on health.
  • Conenct with Veterans' groups or participate in clubs or hobbies focused on something you like.

If these actions feel overwhelming, start with small steps. For example, identify one person you could reach out to or one place you could go, and then follow through. Continuing to meet specific small goals can help you break out of a pattern of withdrawal or isolation.

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 doctor. Ask if your doctor has experience treating Veterans or can refer you to someone who does. If you feel comfortable enough with your physician, he or she may be able to help you find tools to manage social withdrawal or social isolation even without direct experience with Veterans.
  • 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 adviser

Explore these resources for more information about Veterans experiencing social withdrawal and social isolation.

Learn more about addressing specific concerns that sometimes accompany social withdrawal and social isolation, such as trouble sleeping, depression, and posttraumatic stress.

Real Warriors
Read about the connection between PTSD and social isolation, and explore useful steps to take for anyone dealing with isolation.
www.realwarriors.net/veterans/treatment/ptsdtreatment.php

Vet Center
If you are a combat Veteran, you can 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. In addition, any Veteran who was sexually traumatized while serving in the military is eligible to receive counseling regardless of gender or era of service.
www2.va.gov/directory/guide/vetcenter_flsh.asp

VA Medical Center Facility Locator
Social withdrawal and isolation may be related to other health conditions that need attention. VA provides world-class health care to eligible Veterans. Most Veterans qualify for cost-free health care services, although some Veterans must pay modest copays for health care or prescriptions. Explore your eligibility for health care using VA's Health Benefits Explorer tool and find out more about the treatment options available to you.
www2.va.gov/directory/guide/home.asp?isflash=1