Social Exclusion And Its Impact On Mental Health

Medically reviewed by Karen Foster, LPC
Updated July 16, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
In 2023, the U.S. Surgeon General issued an advisory about the epidemic of loneliness in the United States. The advisory cited research showing that social exclusion can have a number of effects on a person’s health and can even increase the risk of premature death significantly. According to the advisory, a lack of social connection can increase a person’s risk of premature death just as much as smoking 15 cigarettes per day can.

Humans tend to be inherently social. We often need other people to survive and thrive in society. We generally rely on cooperation and connection to move past obstacles and live life to the fullest. When this vital need isn’t met, it can have a variety of negative effects on our mental and physical health.

Getty/Xavier Lorenzo
Facing social exclusion can be challenging

Social exclusion: Definition

In general, social exclusion refers to situations in which someone is rejected, overlooked, or neglected in a society setting. In social exclusion, a person could be denied entry somewhere, stripped of their rights, or pushed out of a group. 

Social exclusion can be direct or indirect, personal or impersonal. Understanding the ways in which others can be excluded from society and working to prevent those situations may help us create a world that is more welcoming and inclusive. It may also be important to understand how social exclusion can affect you personally and how there are ways to heal from the effects of social exclusion.

Impact of social exclusion on health

Being excluded can be mentally painful. Research show that social exclusion can lead to the following mental health challenges:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Poor sleep quality
  • Loneliness
  • Cognitive decline
  • Memory problems

Social exclusion can also contribute to physical health problems, such as:

Physical and mental health tend to be highly correlated with one another. While social exclusion normally affects mental health the most, these concerns can increase the risk of developing physical health problems later. Learning how to cope when you’re socially excluded may help mitigate against the effects of these problems.

Groups who may experience social exclusion

While social exclusion can affect anyone at any stage of life, the following groups may be more susceptible to social exclusion:

  • Minority groups: People who belong to a minority group may be at increased risk of experiencing social exclusion. For example, those in the LGBTQIA+ community may not be accepted at school or by their parents. Ethnic and racial minorities could potentially be denied jobs or experience discrimination at their place of work because of their identity. Those belonging to certain religious backgrounds may also face harassment and exclusion.
  • Individuals with disabilities or mental health challenges: Individuals with disabilities can sometimes be intentionally excluded, but they often experience unintentional exclusion too. For example, they may not have the same privileges to buildings and resources that others do. People who live with a disability might experience ostracism while dating as well. Those with mental health conditions may also be harshly judged or excluded.
  • Seniors: Research shows that seniors often experience high levels of social exclusion. This may be due to reasons, such as retirement, illness, or the death of a significant other. 
  • Lower-income communities:Individuals from a lower socioeconomic background can face discrimination and social exclusion, especially in areas like healthcare and mental health services. They may be denied certain resources they need to survive or thrive, which may contribute to them falling deeper into poverty. People with low income might also not have availability to educational resources that others have connection to, and poverty can lead to reduced forms of political and cultural power.
  • Citizens in prison: People who are in prison may experience some of the highest rates of social exclusion. Regardless of the reason someone is in prison, the pain of being away from loved ones can be difficult to handle. Research shows that when people are released from prison, they can face discrimination, a lack of related services and benefits, and hampered relationships and influence.

Not all social exclusion is done on purpose, but that doesn’t mean unintentional exclusion isn’t hurtful. In many cases, it can be just as harmful as intentional exclusion. The more we can recognize the processes in which socially excluded groups are negatively impacted, the better positioned we may be to respond.

Ways that people are socially excluded

Below are some ways that people can experience social exclusion:

  • The silent treatment: Also called shunning, stonewalling, or ghosting, the silent treatment can be a common but hurtful method of social exclusion. When someone uses the silent treatment, they may completely shut out or ignore another person. Usually, there is a refusal to talk at all, even if the person being shut out tries to connect or start a conversation.
  • Gossip:It can be hard to hear other people speaking poorly of you or spreading rumors that aren’t true. Gossip can be common among school-age students, but it can happen to anyone.
  • Bullying:Sometimes people don’t mean to exclude others on purpose, but other times that is their main goal. For example, bullies often attempt to make their targets feel small, unwelcome, and rejected.
  • Uninvited:Being intentionally left out of a meeting, party, or other gathering can be a form of social exclusion.

If you feel like you’re experiencing social exclusion or related issues, it may be important not to jump to conclusions right away. Rather, you may want to take some time to get some information before judging the situation. If you are experiencing exclusion, there are ways to address it and mitigate its negative effects. 

Why is social inclusion important to mental health?

Social inclusion can be important for mental health because it often makes people feel valued, appreciated, and accepted. In general, no one enjoys feeling left out, and it can be hard on a person’s mental health when it happens. Exclusion can lower self-esteem and confidence and contribute to the development of conditions like depression.

How to promote social inclusion in mental health

When certain groups are discriminated against, it can lead to societal ostracism and create cycles of inequality that may be even harder to overcome. By addressing the inequalities facing disadvantaged groups today, we can work toward creating system-wide changes that may last for generations. 

Part of inclusivity may involve working toward making mental health care more inclusive. Below are some potential ways to build inclusivity in mental health care for everyone:

  • Break down barriers to quality care: Legislative solutions aimed at increasing connection to mental health services may help individuals in need, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • Provide community support:Support groups, volunteer work, and free mental health programs may all be helpful in times of mental health crisis. 
  • Increase awareness:Employers and educators may be able to help by ensuring their employees and students have educational mental health resources. Employers can also choose to include mental health care in their benefits and healthcare packages.

Everyone can do their part to promote inclusivity in the mental health care field. You may be able to help by spreading awareness in person or through social media with helpful resources. You can also speak out against mental health stigmas so that those around you can become more comfortable with the topic.

Strategies to mitigate the effects of exclusion

If you’ve been excluded, left out, or rejected, you may be experiencing a whirlwind of emotions. These strong feelings may be difficult to handle. Social exclusion is typically not anyone’s fault, it may help to learn some strategies to cope with the emotions you’re feeling. Below are some tips for keeping your mind healthy:

  • Lean on your support group: Research published in Frontiers in Psychiatry shows that spending time with family can reduce loneliness. If you don’t have family nearby, it may help to spend time with friends or create your own support group.
  • Listen to music:While music isn’t meant to be a replacement for connection with others, it can be beneficial because it usually increases the presence of, which can boost your mood and improve overall happiness.
  • Let yourself feel: Attempting to deny how you feel or bottling up your feelings may make things worse. You might try journaling or talking with a friend if you’re having trouble expressing how you feel.
  • Find a hobby:Research published in PLoS One suggests that hobbies or leisure activities may have a positive impact on mental health. You may find that hobbies reduce stress, keep you engaged, and help you feel less lonely. Depending on your interests, you might consider playing an instrument, painting, or reading, or you can try an activity that includes others, such as a sport or book club.

Facing social exclusion can be challenging

Reaching out for help

Social exclusion can contribute to a variety of mental health challenges. If you find yourself having difficulty coping with social exclusion or loneliness, know that you are not alone. Many people experience this, and you may benefit from speaking with a mental health professional. If you feel hesitant about traditional in-person therapy, you might consider online therapy, which research shows to be effective for numerous mental health challenges including anxiety and depression.

Often, online therapy can be a more convenient option as it may allow you to get the help and support you deserve from the comfort of your home without having to worry about transportation. Also, you can choose to communicate with a therapist in a way that’s most comfortable for you, whether by audio, video, live chat, or a combination of these modalities.


Social exclusion can have a variety of negative effects on a person’s mental and physical health. Although it can affect anyone, it may be more likely to affect minority groups, individuals with disabilities, lower-income communities, individuals in prison, and people over the age of 65. 

If you’re feeling left out, know that you don’t have to face this situation alone. You may benefit from speaking with a licensed mental health professional, whether you choose to do so online or in person. With BetterHelp, you can choose a therapist who has experience helping people who are facing social exclusion. Take the first step toward overcoming social exclusion and reach out to BetterHelp today.

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