Illustration by Raya Deussen

Extreme isolation can harm mental health

By Can Altunkaynak

Ending up alone is not a rare phenomenon on college campuses. Some of us are more social than others, but at some point in our days or weeks we feel isolated or choose to be alone. In solitude lies a great potential for self-development but also feelings of being lost and marginalizing oneself from the society fueled by the intensity of emotions that cannot be expressed.

I feel that there is value in talking about this because it makes us question what the society we live in is like and how it actually could be. Talking about it does not change the general patterns of isolation overnight but we can take small actions to open up opportunities for dialogue around the issue of isolation within society.

I am aware that there is an emphasis on being “an individual” at LC, but I think it is possible to do that within a collective society. Let’s face it, there is a social psychology in every society that accounts for the creation of unspoken rules. If there are fashion trends, certain ways people speak, things that are praised and things that are unacceptable, then there is a collective life we should acknowledge. You will never become a fully-fledged individual unless you live in a huckleberry field like Henry David Thoreau.

This notion of being an individual was easy for me to understand, but when I went back home for summer break, my dad told me that it was just another word for being selfish. That is because the society he grew up in and still lives in is a collective one that brings and keeps people together: there is a cultural support system to make sure people are fully functioning within society according to its constructed norms. The best example is the family structure in Turkey. The families often meet, spend time and support each other, even financially, in times of need. The parents keep supporting you no matter how old you are and vice versa, which makes sure that family members can go through hard times without problems. Family is such an important part of the culture that we even have specific words for your aunt’s husband or your brother-in-law’s wife which is different depending on whether you are a man or woman.

In individualistic societies, however, the same cultural support system is not present to the same extent, which not only allows people to “be isolated,” but also to “isolate themselves.” In moderate solitude there is peace and growth, but in excess it creates a world in one’s head that functions differently than reality. Because we are social creatures, our mental health decays when we begin to only interact with ourselves. If someone falls through the cracks of society and marginalizes themself, we tend to blame them as individuals rather than blaming the society. They might even do horrible things due to their emotions which overwhelms them, but we should ask ourselves how and why they ended up like that.

The reasons vary, but I feel that our focus should be on the solution. Be willing to sacrifice some time from yourself and give some to others so that they can do the same. Be open to others. Say hello to people around you even though you do not know them very well — or at least smile. We do not lose anything when we are a little bit more friendly and supportive towards others to create a better community.

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