Texas Health and Human Services / Texas Health Steps

Social Isolation and Loneliness

Emotional and behavioral health challenges and associated disparities were of growing concern before the COVID-19 pandemic. The public health emergency has acutely exacerbated these challenges.

American Academy of Pediatrics, 2021

Social Isolation and Loneliness: The Effects Continue

Children, adolescents and families across Texas continue to feel the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the mental, behavioral and developmental consequences of being isolated from friends, family and peers at various stages.

The effects of stress caused by social isolation and loneliness can vary by age. Common signs in infants and young children include disruptions in sleep, toileting and feeding; difficulty separating from caregivers; and regression in developmentally appropriate skills. The AAP (2021) notes that older children, teens and young adults may exhibit different signs. Drag and drop the following signs into the correct age group to show how the effects of social isolation and loneliness may appear in older age groups.

Older children and adolescents

  • Fearfulness and anxiety
  • Somatic symptoms such as stomachache and headache

Teens and young adults

  • Lack of concentration and poor academic performance
  • Increase in substance use

Texas Health Steps requires mental, behavioral and developmental screening at each preventive medical checkup. As a provider, you have the opportunity to screen young patients and provide resources to help address the effects of social isolation and loneliness and to promote resilience at every age.

Why it matters

Social isolation and loneliness are serious public health risks that can contribute to morbidity and early mortality. The U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration reports these factors are as risky to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Your efforts to identify and address the mental, behavioral and developmental effects of social isolation and loneliness can protect young patients and families from experiencing negative consequences.

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American Academy of Pediatrics. (2021). Interim guidance on supporting the emotional and behavioral health needs of children, adolescents, and families during the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021.