The effects of social isolation stress and discrimination on mental health

Lasse Brandt, Shuyan Liu, Christine Heim, Andreas Heinz

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Social isolation and discrimination are growing public health concerns associated with poor physical and mental health. They are risk factors for increased morbidity and mortality and reduced quality of life. Despite their detrimental effects on health, there is a lack of knowledge regarding translation across the domains of experimental research, clinical studies, and real-life applications. Here, we review and synthesize evidence from basic research in animals and humans to clinical translation and interventions. Animal models indicate that social separation stress, particularly in early life, activates the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and interacts with monoaminergic, glutamatergic, and GABAergic neurotransmitter systems, inducing long-lasting reductions in serotonin turnover and alterations in dopamine receptor sensitivity. These findings are of particular importance for human social isolation stress, as effects of social isolation stress on the same neurotransmitter systems have been implicated in addictive, psychotic, and affective disorders. Children may be particularly vulnerable due to lasting effects of social isolation and discrimination stress on the developing brain. The effects of social isolation and loneliness are pronounced in the context of social exclusion due to discrimination and racism, during widespread infectious disease related containment strategies such as quarantine, and in older persons due to sociodemographic changes. This highlights the importance of new strategies for social inclusion and outreach, including gender, culture, and socially sensitive telemedicine and digital interventions for mental health care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number398
JournalTranslational psychiatry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Biological Psychiatry


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