Solitary Confinement: Mental Illness and Isolation

March 28, 2013 Natalie Jeanne Champagne

I had a tough year. I typically have a lower mood once October kicks me in the ass, but this year was worse. I watched seven seasons of Lost in one month--granted I had never seen it before. But still! I even went as far as to abandon writing this blog. I was not thinking clearly. Writing this blog is an important part of my life.

As usual, you are probably wondering where I am going again. Yes, the woman who wrote a memoir on mental illness and addiction should perhaps stop talking about her own misery. But this morning--back on my feet again--I remembered that time and the words "solitary confinement" came to mind.

The Connection Between Mental Illness and "Solitary Confinement"

First, let's refer to Wikipedia to help define a complicated term: "Solitary confinement is a special form of imprisonment in which a prisoner is isolated from any human contact."

I knew this term would be connected to words like "prisoner" and this is exactly why I believe we can twist it around and apply it to mental illness. If solitary confinement is a ". . .Special form of imprisonment" so too is isolating ourselves to an unhealthy degree. It is, I believe, a special type of isolation--a scary one.

We build high walls to lock people out; walls so high they often cannot climb them. And we cannot find our way out.

The words ". . .Isolated from human contact" fits in nicely. When we are unwell, people who are well are kind of scary, at least I think so. They laugh and smile and do all sorts of weird things like get out of bed!

Mental Illness and isolating go hand in hand, but they don't have to. We don't need to live a solitary life.

Becoming Part of Life. . .Even When Life is Hard

Picture this:

Your alarm clock goes off. The sound is akin to shattering glass to your ears. Lately, noise feels either amplified or you are unable to hear it at all. And so you turn the alarm off. If you have to go to work, you sort of wander through the day and each hour feels longer than the next. Or, if you cannot leave your home, you might stay in bed. Creeping out to use the washroom or pull the curtains tighter.

If you live alone you turn the phone off; if you do not perhaps you pretend you do. People do not understand how you are feeling; you don't even understand. And so you isolate. And you isolate. And you isolate until you forget a life outside of the small one you have built. Surrounded by walls and under blankets. Safe. But scared.

These feelings, this desire to be alone, is normal when we feel awful. But we need to work to step out of our comfort zone.

A few ideas:

>Answer the phone. Just answer it. And be honest if it is someone you trust. I am always surprised at the support I receive.

>Make a short list of things you can do: Get out of bed, hell make the bed if you can, eat something healthy, go for a walk. Even when it is pissing rain out here in British Columbia my dog forces me out. Ask if you can walk someones dog once and a while! Honestly, it makes both parties feel better. Animals are healing.

>Have a hot bath or a warm shower.

>Check in with your mental health team!

Yes, self-care!

Isolation is normal to a degree but remember that we don't have to live that way. Recovering from mental illness involves getting to know ourselves and letting people in.

What your experience with isolating is: Do you struggle with it? Please share your experience and what works for you. We need to band together!

APA Reference
Jeanne, N. (2013, March 28). Solitary Confinement: Mental Illness and Isolation, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 22 from

Author: Natalie Jeanne Champagne

Rosie H
October, 9 2019 at 10:43 pm

I grew up alone for the most part. My two brothers have each other, and my parents had each other. I was even left alone and felt isolated and lost for a long time. I’m still isolated now feeling hopeless about money and that I’m useless. Being alone tomorrow it’s really damaging and I’m trying to get out of it and feel alive again and pass depression, now what do I do?

January, 15 2015 at 2:20 am

Warning: Reading the Gospel of John in the Holy Bible will cure depression. It will give you Hope. It will make you realize that you are loved with the biggest love available: Divine Love. It will show you that you don't have to be alone and afraid. We have a Supernatural Helper. The Gospel of John will open your eyes to Divine promises you might not have realized were for YOU! Check it out. What do you have to lose? Misery? Sadness? Pain? Your call.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

September, 29 2021 at 1:29 pm

My longtime counsellor was a devout Baptist that received his degree at a seminary school in Chicago. He wanted to be a doctor originally. We discussed depression and bipolar disorder and he resisted the temptation to insert “religious statements” in a hit-and-run manner. He realized I needed medications first and foremost because my body was different. Again, he was going to be a doctor and fully appreciated science to the fullest.

March, 5 2014 at 6:12 am

Isolating by choice, while unhealthy, is nothing like solitary confinement. This is an extremely unfair comparison. When you choose to isolate, you can still lay in a comfortable bed and watch LOST. You can get up and use the bathroom when you need to. You have options for how to spend your time. In solitary confinement, everything is taken away from you. You are left in a stimulation-free environment where you're stuck with nothing but your thoughts. And if you're in solitary confinement, those thoughts probably aren't good. Everyone who gets put in solitary confinement will eventually develop psychotic symptoms. It's just a matter of time. It's inhumane and it's awful and frankly, this comparison is offensive to those of us who have had to endure it. They are not the same at all.

January, 16 2014 at 6:15 pm

With the snow, as art car and severe anxiety I am isolating. I fear driving in the snow, can't even bare being in a grocery store, and happy loud people raise my anxiety

Jessika Rviz
January, 4 2014 at 12:22 am

Hi, I merely had to mention, I disagree. Your current article didn't make sense at all.What's up, everything is going perfectly here and ofcourse every one is sharing information, that’s actually excellent, keep up writing.

carol kva
July, 1 2013 at 11:50 am

I'm doing that now

April, 6 2013 at 3:18 am

zhiv, YES! That is EXACTLY how I feel too.

Anonymous Too
April, 1 2013 at 12:56 pm

I am stuck. I am paralyzed. The only time that I leave the house it to go to a doctor's appointment. I have a chronic medical condition, which compounds the depression and anxiety. It's driving my husband nuts. He doesn't get it. My kids shouldn't have to see this happen to me. I am grateful that they are in their mid to late teens, so they know that this isn't always what I was. I have no idea who I used to be. But I can tell you that she probably wouldn't like the woman that I am now.

April, 1 2013 at 10:14 am

I have always been a naturally solitary person. I'm quite happy with my own company, which is just as well since I spend most days on my own. However when I an very depressed, it is other people that exacerbate my condition. I cannot stand to be around anyone or have anyone around me. Going out is very stressful because it means I will probably have to interact with one or more people, even if that means passing someone on the street, and, no matter how small that interaction is, this is very distressing to me. I think there are times for people like me, when isolating oneself is the gateway to recovery, and interaction impedes recovery. For people like me, isolation is a necessity. Solitary confinement is a welcome relief, not a prison. The prison is other people. Does anyone else feel like this?

April, 1 2013 at 3:28 am

Went through a really bad time in my teens. Ended up sectioned and received 3 months of ECT. When released I suffered from agoraphobia well into my late twenties.Forced myself to go out gradually and eventually got qualifications and a job. Although I suffer the occasional panic attack, in the main I'm ok . Also, I found taking up jogging a massive boost to self-confidence and, of course, it gets you out!

March, 31 2013 at 9:54 am

I definetly have a lot of experience with this. I have isolated myself,at first, not knowing, not even realizing that Iwas doing it. This has gone on honestly for years...I'll guess about maybe 8 years or so.I am sooo THANKFUL that you wrote about this, because just recently,I have become VERY aware of doing it and am very afraid to stop. I think, because I see how "socially inept" I've become.I live with my 3 kitties, and a man.But he is hardly here,actually,when he is,it's usually not a happy time. THANK YOU for writing!! PLEASE keep it up..I will be here following!! <3

March, 29 2013 at 8:05 am

Thank you.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natalie Jeanne Champagne
March, 29 2013 at 8:14 am

You are certainly welcome.

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