Mental Health Could Be Affected By Social Isolation, Shows Study

    December 3, 2012
    Sean Patterson
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A new study suggests that isolation can result in reduced production of myelin – a protective nerve fiber – and could contribute to developing mental illness.

Myelin acts as an “insulating material” around the areas of nerve cells that send impulses to other nerve cells. Production of the fiber is controlled by nerve cells called oligodendrocytes, but is lost in diseases such as multiple sclerosis. Abnormal myelin has, in other studies, been linked to mental illnesses including autism, anxiety, schizophrenia, and depression.

The study, published in the journal Nature neuroscience, showed that mice who were deprived of social contact had reduced myelin production. Researchers stated this demonstrates that formation of oligodendrocytes is affected by environmental changes.

“We knew that a lack of social interaction early in life impacted myelination in young animals but were unsure if these changes would persist in adulthood,” said Dr. Patrizia Casaccia, who led the study and is chief of the Center of Excellence for Myelin Repair at the Friedman Brain Institute at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “Social isolation of adult mice causes behavioral and structural changes in neurons, but this is the first study to show that it causes myelin dysfunction as well.”

After observing the myelin drop in the mice, the researchers re-introduced them into a social group. Within four weeks, the social withdrawal symptoms were reversed.

“Our study demonstrates that oligodendrocytes generate new myelin as a way to respond to environmental stimuli, and that myelin production is significantly reduced in social isolation,” said Casaccia. “Abnormalities occur in people with psychiatric conditions characterized by social withdrawal. Other disorders characterized by myelin loss, such as MS, often are associated with depression. Our research emphasizes the importance of maintaining a socially stimulating environment in these instances.”

  • Darrell

    In the Mental Health could be affected by isolation study is very true. I have suffered from depression because of social isolation from others. People didn’t isolate me. I isolated myself due to an instance when I went to college as a freshman, the upper classmen gave a me a nickname that made people think I was gay. It scared me and made me isolate myself from other people because it made me think that people who didn’t know me thought I was gay because of the nickname the upper classmen gave me. I have never been gay but this has made me be on guard to act extra masculine which then turn into OCD. I am doing better now but this study is true. In order to overcome social isolation, a person should go out and socialize. The Exposure Response Prevention method works. This also helps people overcome OCD as well.

  • Julian

    Social isolation is good for everybody for awhile but you should go out and be social whether you volunteer, have a job or exercise. The age of technology and internet pretty much helps for you too be antisocial too and of course not to mention the unemployment. I myself get a little anxious when i dont go out for awhile but once i start making it a routine being walking in stores, communicating with people it goes away.