Youth Work


What does isolation really do to a human being? Perhaps it depends on what you are isolated from? Whether your decision or somebody else’s, at some point in your life you may end up isolated. What is the experience truly like?

Often people look to the dictionary as a starting point, so let’s follow suit. Isolation is a noun, an identifying word ( We are given six examples to identify with:-

1. an act or instance of isolating.
2. the state of being isolated.
3. the complete separation from others of a person suffering from contagious or infectious disease; quarantine.
4. the separation of a nation from other nations by isolationism.
5. Psychoanalysis. a process whereby an idea or memory is divested of its emotional component.
6. Sociology. social isolation.

(all from

The act or instance of isolating could be when somebody decides to take up meditation or mindfulness as a hobby. Although the roots of mindfulness are in Buddhism, a lot of the reference and training books in this area focus much more on the secular side these days, apportioning no link to any religious community. Maybe you have one of these methods and found it beneficial, but what was it really like? How would you describe it to the sceptics? It’s a form of isolation in reality, surely, but is it really useful to isolate in this way? Taking time for yourself out of a busy day to focus on your feelings and trying to make sense of them can have huge benefits easing the gruelling and punishing lives many of us lead.

The state of being isolated reminds me of the great debate on isolation as a form of punishment in educational establishments. A couple of years ago, it was reported in various media articles about isolation rooms being used for the ‘naughty’ children in order that the well behaved can learn, but what are the disaffected young people learning by being removed from a learning environment (where admittedly they are probably not learning), only to be placed at a single table with high walls either side, forced to face the wall, do their work, and learn from their mistakes? Often they are not allowed to talk, but if they are, this is to a teacher or non-teacher who has been rota-d to the room and doesn’t want to be there so makes the young person feel even worse about the situation they find themselves in. At home, they may be isolated or locked in to certain tasks and need school as a release, or even just a space to learn how to interact with society. Tell you what, let’s isolate them from everything and still expect work to be produced. There is a need to learn from mistakes, but is this really the way to do it? Surely this is archaic and in some cases, barbaric. See this video for the American version of an isolation room. Surely it’s inhumane and unhealthy.

Isolation from others due to medical reasons such as contagious diseases is obviously required in order to contain the virus, or whatever it may be, from affecting others, but what affect does it have on the mentality of patients? Lying alone in a sealed off hospital room with no interaction other than note-takers swarming you can only be negative mentally, even if you make a full recovery. I wrote previously about the positive affect hospital radio has on patients health – one of the many reasons I enjoy volunteering for it. How about the stigma attached to having a disease? A good case in point is Pauline Cafferkey, the nurse who had Ebola and returned to the UK declaring all was well and masking her symptoms until such time that her condition worsened and she was admitted to hospital. She was immediately deemed an awful person for her deceitfulness, but surely there was something in her mind that told her it was the right thing to do to avoid prejudice from her home land. Sadly, whatever the plan, it backfired somewhat resulting in more than one admittance to hospital and a form of isolation from the world and community, although there has been much media interest.

Item 4’s description is perhaps best left alone considering the current climate, as it could quite easily relate to Brexit, the UK’s decision to leave the European Union. This could see a major isolation within the world, but not only that, each group of people who voted could be isolated from the other, and the eventual breakdown of the UK, could be imminent. Will this cause isolation within communities both locally, nationally, and internationally? What will this do to people’s state of mind? The effects are perhaps already becoming evident with protests, arguments, and the trust the people placed in the government already faltering.

Psychoanalysis is an area I’m gaining a greater interest of late and I’ll admit I’m not a professional in this field at present. Sigmund Freud was though and his discovery of bringing the unconscious mind into a conscious state to deal with emotions and events affecting an individual have had proven results in lessening the feeling of isolation that patients can feel. Perhaps you’re a psychoanalyst and would care to share thoughts and views on the subject, or maybe you were a patient with a positive or negative experience.

This finally brings us to social isolation. Social isolation can be an horrendous experience. The feeling that you cannot leave the house for fear that something bad could happen. The constant dread walking down the street. The inability to stay in a coffee shop with friends, or even make it in there in the first place. The always being on edge. Mental health is one of those disabilities that cannot be seen, but if someone you see appears nervous, ‘zoned out’, or is just upset about being out or even the thought of it, help them rather than isolate them further. It seems that more and more with the pressures on each and every one of us, that the increase of social anxiety disorders is likely to increase. I have heard so many times recently friends and colleagues saying they simply cannot go out for a cup of coffee with their friends as they do not have time. In reality, they DO have time, but they are failing to MAKE the time. If you’re one of these people, and we’ve probably all been there, look at your calendar today and see when you can make a commitment in the next week to stop what you’re doing, meet up with a friend, and have a jolly good laugh. You’ll both feel better for it.

Isolation can present itself in many forms, and whilst there can be positive reasons for it, such as the benefits to our health and prevention in spreading diseases, is isolating a young person (or even an adult) as a punishment really helpful? Does dividing a nation truly benefit its people? Or even at the basic level, does ignoring someone with a mental health condition who could just do with a friendly face really make a big difference? Certainly in the latter, yes. We might not be able to change much, but why not look over some of those points again. Who knows, you might be able to help make a change, no matter how small.

I challenge you at the very least to smile at five people you don’t know each day for the next week. Perhaps sharing some positive emotions will start making the world a better place and eventually end the isolation many feel?

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