Two guys walking on a bridge, one with his arm resting on the other's shoulder

The Problem With Social Isolation

Social withdrawal impacts the lives of many men. Men experiencing mental health issues are especially at risk of falling into patterns of isolation. [1, 2, 5] This is concerning as social avoidance and loneliness often worsen existing symptoms of depression and anxiety [2] and increase self-destructive behaviours and suicidality.[3, 4] Withdrawing socially is also linked to an increased risk of additional health concerns including sleep issues, substance abuse, high blood pressure, heart disease, and more.[6] These risks point to why it’s especially important for us to be there for men who may be disengaging from a healthy social life.

The Importance of Peer Support

Doing your best to stay connected, even on an occasional or distant basis, provides him with a buffer against negative thoughts, feelings, and stress, which will in turn reduce suicidality and increase the likelihood of him seeking help.[7] Quality support also reduces future social avoidance and increases positive self-perception, which in turn reduces depressive symptoms.[8, 9]

Note that many isolated men want emotional and social support but often feel uncomfortable with expressing themselves, as well as feeling that they aren’t trusting of or close enough with people in their lives to share their struggles with.[7] By being a patient and reliable source of support for a guy who has withdrawn, we can gain his trust and become someone he increasingly feels comfortable turning to. However, between ignored texts, failed plans, missed phone calls, and superficial conversations, trying to support a guy who is socially withdrawn is a difficult task that requires empathy and patience.

By being a patient and reliable source of support for a guy who has withdrawn, we can gain his trust and become someone he feels comfortable turning to

What You Can Do


Checking in on him is important; despite his lack of connection, we want him to know that he’s not alone. Since it can be especially hard to get through to a guy who’s avoiding others, keep things simple.

Try giving him a call; ask how he’s doing and how he’s feeling. If he’s having a hard time opening up, keep the conversation fairly short and try not to pry too much – it may take a few calls for him to feel comfortable talking about more heavy-hitting things.

If he doesn’t pick up his phone, send him a text every once in a while to let him know you’re still around. You can say things like:

  • “Hey, haven’t heard from you in a while, how are things?”
  • “Just checking in! I didn’t hear back from you last time I texted; I know you’ve been pretty busy/stressed/overwhelmed. How are you doing?”
  • “Hey man, I’ve been thinking about you a lot, just wondering how you’ve been lately?”
  • “Missing you man, we haven’t hung out in a while. How have you been? I’d love to hear from you.”

Encourage Him to Get Out of the House

A change of scenery is a great way to help a withdrawn man feel more connected to the world. However, making plans with someone who’s been avoiding social life can be a challenge. Consider some of these ideas, which are simple, easygoing, and don’t require too much planning or pressure:

  • See if he’s up for getting out into a casual social environment; ask him to grab a quick coffee at a café or to accompany you to a store you both like.
  • If he’s mentioned needing something (e.g., in conversation, he said he needs a new pair of shoes for work), ask if he wants to hit the store with you so you can help him pick out a pair.
  • If you work out or do a physical activity (e.g., gym, driving range, tennis, batting cages, snowboarding, a swim at the beach/lake), encourage him to join you. Exercise is extremely helpful in reducing symptoms of mental illness.[10]
  • Ask him to join you on a walk in the neighbourhood, a hike in nature, or, if he has a dog, see if you can join him when he takes the dog out. Walks, especially in nature, help reduce negative feelings and thoughts.[11, 12] This also provides a convenient opportunity to chat.

Offer to Help Out

Stress is a factor that can contribute to men withdrawing socially.[5] When life gets overwhelming, completing small, mundane tasks can feel like conquering a mountain, and finding time for other people can seem impossible.

An indirect way that you can help reduce his stress is by offering to take on some of his smaller tasks where possible.[9] This will also bring you into contact with him, meaning it’s a great inadvertent way to spark conversation. Depending on the guy, his lifestyle, and your relationship with him, some things you can offer to help with include:

  • Driving him to an appointment, work, etc.
  • Offer to pick up some groceries or household items for him.
  • If he’s mentioned needing to clean or organize his house/apartment, offer to help.
  • If you guys are coworkers, see if there’s anything he’s struggling to keep up with at work that you can possibly help with.
  • If you cook for yourself, make a bit extra and offer to bring some over or drop it off for him.
  • If he’s been putting off paying bills, doing taxes, etc., ask if you can help with organizing paperwork and getting things in order.

Connect Him With a Community

If possible, try encouraging him to connect with others. If you’re part of a community, e.g., if you play pool with a small group, if you go to church, if you volunteer, etc., ask if he’d like to come with you. You can also suggest the idea of attending a mental health support group for men. Support groups hold several social benefits for men who are isolated by creating a sense of community.[13] Offering to go with him may make him more open to the idea.

Give Him Space

It’s very likely that a guy who’s withdrawn may ignore your texts, avoid your phone calls, turn down plans or flake on them last minute, and reject your suggestions – this is OK! Remember that he’s probably not ignoring or rejecting you because he doesn’t want your support. Rather, dealing with depression takes a lot out of someone; his avoidance is likely a symptom of his struggle. Don’t take it personally; accept rejection and give him space.

Out of your desire to help, you probably have the urge to call him often, text him with elaborate plans or ideas for fun activities, etc. But, bombarding a guy who is struggling can be draining and may cause him to retreat more. On the flip side, giving him space doesn’t mean that you should completely avoid connecting with him – there’s a happy medium.

Giving him space can look like keeping things light, being reassuring but not overbearing, and trying not to be too eager with him. Check in on him, invite him out, suggest mellow plans, or offer your support, but also respect his choice to turn your ideas down.

Reduce Pressure and Expectations

Lastly, it’s important to reduce the pressure and expectations we put on a withdrawn guy. The ideas covered above for checking in and suggesting easygoing plans are intended to be low-pressure, relaxed, and non-intrusive ways to connect with him socially.

However, remember that even these simple ideas may be a challenge for him, so don’t push him too hard and avoid saying things that may make him feel guilty or like he’s letting you down if he says no (e.g., “C’mon it’ll be fun. It’s honestly such a bummer when you turn down plans”). If plans fall through or if he changes his mind, try not to be upset with him. Placing expectations on a guy who is having a tough time socializing can feel suffocating.

Whatever the outcome, remain understanding. Let him know that whether he’s up for chatting/hanging out or not, you’ll be there for him either way and you’ll check in again soon! Trying out some of these tips is a great step toward being a steady supporter and reassuring him that he’s not alone.

Next Step:


  1. Emerson, E., Fortune, N., Llewellyn, G., & Stancliffe, R. (2021). Loneliness, social support, social isolation and wellbeing among working age adults with and without disability: Cross-sectional study. Disability and Health Journal, 14(1), 100965. 1016/j.dhjo.2020.100965
  2. Santini, Z. I., Jose, P. E., York Cornwell, E., Koyanagi, A., Nielsen, L., Hinrichsen, C., Meilstrup, C., Madsen, K. R., & Koushede, V. (2020). Social disconnectedness, perceived isolation, and symptoms of depression and anxiety among older Americans (NSHAP): a longitudinal mediation analysis. The Lancet: Public health5(1), e62–e70.
  3. Calati, R., Ferrari, C., Brittner, M., Oasi, O., Olié, E., Carvalho, A.F., Courtet, P. (2019). Suicidal thoughts and behaviors and social isolation: A narrative review of the literature. Journal of Affective Disorders, 245, 653-667.
  4. Shaw, R. J., Cullen, B., Graham, N., Lyall, D. M., Mackay, D., Okolie, C., Pearsall, R., Ward, J., John, A., & Smith, D. J. (2021). Living alone, loneliness and lack of emotional support as predictors of suicide and self-harm: A nine-year follow up of the UK Biobank cohort. Journal of Affective Disorders279, 316–323.
  5. Ike, K. G. O., de Boer, S. F., Buwalda, B., & Kas, M. J. H. (2020). Social withdrawal: An initially adaptive behavior that becomes maladaptive when expressed excessively. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews116, 251–267.
  6. National Institute on Aging. (2021). Loneliness and Social Isolation — Tips for Staying Connected. National Institutes of Health.
  7. McKenzie, S. K., Collings, S., Jenkin, G., & River, J. (2018). Masculinity, Social Connectedness, and Mental Health: Men’s Diverse Patterns of Practice. American Journal of Men’s Health12(5), 1247–1261.
  8. Clifford, B., & Nelson, L. (2019). Somebody to Lean On: The Moderating Effect of Relationships on Links Between Social Withdrawal and Self-Worth. Journal of Relationships Research,10, E9.
  9. Gariépy, G., Honkaniemi, H., & Quesnel-Vallée, A. (2016). Social support and protection from depression: systematic review of current findings in Western countries. The British Journal of Psychiatry,209(4), 284–293.
  10.  Mayo Clinic. (2017). Depression and anxiety: Exercise eases symptoms. Mayo Clinic.
  11.  Berman, M. G., Kross, E., Krpan, K. M., Askren, M. K., Burson, A., Deldin, P. J., et al. (2012). Interacting with nature improves cognition and affect for individuals with depression. Journal of Affective Disorders, 140, 300–305. 1016/j.jad.2012.03.012
  12.  Watkins-Martin, K., Bolanis, D., Richard-Devantoy, S., Pennestri, M. H., Malboeuf-Hurtubise, C., Philippe, F., Guindon, J., Gouin, J. P., Ouellet-Morin, I., & Geoffroy, M. C. (2022). The effects of walking in nature on negative and positive affect in adult psychiatric outpatients with major depressive disorder: A randomized-controlled study. Journal of Affective Disorders318, 291–298.
  13.  Vickery A. (2022). ‘It’s made me feel less isolated because there are other people who are experiencing the same or very similar to you’: Men’s experiences of using mental health support groups. Health & Social Care in the Community30(6), 2383–2391.