Social Exclusion And Its Impact On Mental Health

Updated February 13, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

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 impacts on our mental health. Feeling left out, rejected, ignored, or excluded can be contrary to human nature, so it makes sense that we don’t usually handle it well. 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 can help us create a world that is more welcoming, tolerant, and inclusive. It can be equally important to understand how social exclusion impacts you personally, and seeking help from an online therapist may help you through it.

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 perceived or real, depending on the situation. Social exclusion can also be intentional, direct, or indirect. 

Impact of Social Exclusion on Health

Being excluded can be mentally painful. Studies show that these mental health effects can be common when someone feels socially excluded:

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Poor sleep quality

  • Loneliness

  • Cognitive decline

  • Memory problems

  • Jealousy

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

  • Obesity

  • Weakened immune system

  • High blood pressure

  • Heart failure 

Physical and mental health tend to be highly correlated with one another. While social exclusion normally affects mental health the most, these issues can increase the risk of developing physical health problems later on. Learning how to cope when you’re socially excluded may prevent these disorders and keep you healthier. 

Groups Who May Experience Social Exclusion

It can be important to identify examples of social exclusion, such as the following: 

  • Minority Groups: People who belong to a minority group may be at increased risk of experiencing social exclusion. For example, those in the LGBTQ+ 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. 

  • Disabled Populations: Disabled populations can be intentionally excluded, but they often experience unintentional exclusion. For example, they may not have the same availability to buildings and resources that others do. People who are disabled might experience ostracism while dating as well. Those with mental health conditions may also be harshly judged or excluded. 

  • Lower-Income Communities: Those with a lower socioeconomic status 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 of lower socioeconomic status may not have availability to educational resources that others do, either. Poverty can lead to reduced forms of political and cultural power. 

  • Citizens In Jail: People who are in jail may experience some of the highest rates of social exclusion, especially if they’re in solitary confinement. In cases where someone innocent is in jail, the pain of being away from loved ones can be extremely difficult to handle. Research shows that once they get out of jail, they can face discrimination, a lack of related services and benefits, and hampered relationships, influence, and knowledge. 

Anyone can be among socially excluded people and groups, but some socially excluded people may be more prone to social exclusion than others. Not all social exclusion is done on purpose, but that doesn’t mean unintentional exclusion shouldn’t be addressed. 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 we may respond. 

Signs You’re Being Excluded 

Below are some signs you may be experiencing 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 that other people are 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. 

Even if you feel like you’re experiencing social exclusion or related issues, it can be important not to jump to conclusions right away. Rather, you may want to take the time to get some information before judging the situation. 

Who Is Most Likely To Experience Social Exclusion?

Anyone can experience the pain of social exclusion, but certain groups of people may be more prone to experiencing it. For example, women tend to experience higher rates of social exclusion than men do. Further, 44% of people over the age of 65 may have experienced exclusion in some way; this is generally the highest rate of any age group. People with disabilities may experience higher rates of social exclusion, as well as those from different minority groups. Even education can impact who is accepted and rejected; those with degrees tend to be less likely to be excluded. People who live alone and those who are single parents often experience social exclusion as well.

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 will last for generations. Moving forward, here are some potential ways to build inclusivity in mental health care for everyone:

  • Break Down Barriers To Quality Care: Legislative solutions can help those in need, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

  • Community Support: Support groups, volunteer work, and free mental health programs can all be helpful in times of mental health crisis. 

  • Increase Awareness: Employers and educators can 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 can help by spreading awareness in person or through social media with helpful resources. You can also speak out against mental health stigmas so that society can become more comfortable with the topic. The best thing you can do may be to accept those around you, even if they’re different from you. An inclusive mental health care system often starts with a society full of accepting people. 

Feeling Left Out: How to Cope

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. Although social exclusion may not be your fault, it can be important to learn how to cope with the emotions you’re feeling. Here are some tips for keeping your mind healthy:

  • Lean On Your Support Group: Spending time with friends and family can lessen the sting of social exclusion and remind you that you’re not alone.

  • Listen To Music: Music can be beneficial because it usually increases brain chemicals like dopamine, 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: Hobbies can reduce stress, keep you engaged, and help you feel less lonely. You might consider kayaking, playing an instrument, painting, or reading, depending on your interests. 

Facing Social Exclusion Can Be Challenging.

Reaching Out for Help

Experiencing social exclusion can contribute to a variety of mental health challenges. If you find yourself having difficulty coping, you may benefit from speaking with a mental health professional. Often, online therapy can be a more accessible 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.

As this study explains, online therapy can be quite effective in treating many different mental health disorders. If you are experiencing stress and other symptoms related to social exclusion or other experiences, please be sure to reach out; help is always available.


Social exclusion can be challenging to cope with. Although it may affect anyone, exclusion is often more likely to impact those of minority groups, disabled populations, lower-income communities, people in jail, and people over the age of 65. Social exclusion can contribute to a variety of mental and physical health conditions. If you’re feeling left out, turning to your support group, engaging in a hobby, listening to music, and allowing yourself to fully experience your feelings may help. You may also benefit from working with a licensed mental health professional, whether you choose to do so online or in person.

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