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.
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.
- Connect 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 to connect with care.
Every day, Veterans from all military service branches and eras connect with proven resources and effective treatments. Here’s how to take the next step: the one that’s right for you.
Read VA's latest coronavirus information. If you have flu-like symptoms such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath, please call before you visit your local medical center or clinic. If you have an appointment, consider making it a telehealth appointment.
New to VA? Apply for health care benefits.
- Getting started is simple. Create a free account online to help ease your enrollment process. To prepare to apply for VA health care in person, by telephone, or by mail, explore VA’s “How to Apply” page.
- Not sure whether you are eligible for VA health care benefits? Read about eligibility for VA health care.
- Unsure of what kind of help you need? Call 1-877-222-VETS (1-877-222-8387) to find the right resources to meet your needs, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET. If you have hearing loss, call TTY: 1-800-877-8339.
- Veterans’ family members and caregivers can see whether they qualify for VA medical benefits as a spouse, surviving spouse, dependent child, or caregiver. Explore family and caregiver health benefits.
Already enrolled in VA and interested in mental health support? Schedule a mental health appointment.
- If you’re already enrolled and using VA health care, the fastest way to schedule VA appointments is to call the VA facility where you want to receive care.
- With VA Appointments tools, you can schedule some VA health care appointments online, view details about upcoming appointments, and organize your health care calendar.
- If you’re not using VA medical services, contact your nearest VA medical center or Vet Center to talk about your needs.
What about other options at VA? VA offers a variety of tools and resources.
- The Veteran Training online self-help portal for overcoming everyday challenges includes modules on managing anger, developing parenting and problem-solving skills, and more.
- Mental health apps for Veterans cover a variety of topics, ranging from PTSD to anger management to quitting smoking.
- VA TeleMental Health connects you with a VA mental health provider through a computer or mobile device in your home or at your nearest VA health facility. You can learn more about this option from your local VA medical center.
- Community-based Vet Centers provide confidential counseling, community engagement and referral services to eligible individuals and their families. You don’t need to be enrolled in VA healthcare or have a service connection to receive services. Find a Vet Center near you or call 1-877-927-8387, 24/7 to talk with a fellow Veteran about your experiences.
What about support beyond VA?
There’s a whole community of support ready to help with whatever you’re going through. Use this tool to find resources near you.
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.