What is social isolation?
There are many definitions of social isolation. The Pan-Edmonton Group Addressing Social Isolation of Seniors (PEGASIS) has chosen to use the following definition:
“Social isolation is a low quantity and quality of contact with others. Social isolation involves a situation of few social contacts, few social roles, and the absence of mutually-rewarding relationships.”
Source: Keefe, J., Andrew, M., Fancey, P. & Hall, M. (2006). Final Report: A Profile of Social Isolation in Canada. Submitted to the Chair of the F/P/T Working Group on Social Isolation.
This definition includes both objective measurement of social networks (quantity) and the person’s subjective perceptions of loneliness (quality).
Social isolation is an objective measure that refers to the size of a person’s social networks and the number of interactions. When people have few social contacts they can be socially isolated.
The term loneliness is often used interchangeably with social isolation. Loneliness is a subjective perspective that refers to how people feel about their interactions with others. It is the feeling of being without the types of relationships one desires.
Social isolation may increase the likelihood of loneliness, but a person can feel lonely even when in the company of others. One can have few social contacts and not feel lonely and someone who has many contacts and a busy social life can still feel lonely.
“Another way to think about the relationship between social isolation and loneliness is: Isolation is being by yourself. Loneliness is not liking it.”
Source: Dr. Sharon Anderson, PEGASIS researcher
Given that social isolation is a complex concept, some definitions highlight specific elements of the experience that other definitions do not:
“a state in which the individual lacks a sense of belonging socially, lacks engagement with others, has a minimal number of social contacts and they are deficient in fulfilling and quality relationships”
(Nicholson, 2009, p. 1346)
“an involuntary, undesired situation where an individual has few social contacts and roles, and is experiencing a lack of rewarding relationships with others”
(Zuran & Liu, 2012)