CHAPTER 9 Show them they’re not alone

Nothing brings you together like a common enemy.

David Foster Wallace

Social isolation is well documented by social psychologists as detrimental to our mental health, but it seems it is damaging for us physically as well — and not merely in the sense that we stop shaving and using deodorant.

We are a social species

It turns out isolation can be a real problem. An alarming study of those most likely to be alone, the socially isolated elderly, found a 26 per cent increase in their mortality rates. The 2010 study, conducted by the US-based organisation AARP, found too much alone time could be just as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

There is also growing dissatisfaction with the way many prison systems use isolation as punishment. The concept of solitary confinement was introduced into US prisons in the early nineteenth century, but was quickly abandoned as the effects on the prisoners were so evidently negative. It was concluded that solitary confinement sent people mad. Today it has been reintroduced, with its defenders asserting that it is no longer the solitary it once was. (The spaces are no longer dark holes, they say, because although they are still windowless, they are rather well lit little boxes.) The effects, however, are believed by many to ultimately be the same.

Scientists and psychologists have discovered numerous negative effects of solitary confinement, such as constant and heightened anxiety, headaches, lethargy, heart ...

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