Developing and implementing strategies to break isolation helps to reduce people’s vulnerability to abuse and discrimination and other manifestations of inequity and exclusion (see Empowerment.)
People from socially-marginalized groups are often isolated from their peers and from supportive resources in the larger community. The more they are isolated, the more they are vulnerable to abuse, assault, discrimination and other impacts of social inequity and exclusion.
Isolation may be structural, for example, when there are few accessible resources such as support services that meet people’s needs. It may be an internalized, psychological state when people learn or believe that they cannot turn to their peers for help. They may have internalized this belief due to a lack of positive role models or a lack of positive images of their peer group which are disseminated within the dominant culture.
- Lin is a girl in Grade 6 who mainly sees media images of successful women in various professional spheres who are thin and beautiful. She is beginning to associate being successful as a woman with these physical characteristics. She has started throwing out the lunch her parents packed for her; she is determined to lose weight.
- Karen, a girl in Grade 8, is developing feelings of attraction for a female classmate. She is in a state of panic, believing there is something wrong with her. She has heard from her parents and extended family that homosexuality is a mental illness and a sin. She does not know any other LGBT people and does not know anyone to whom she could talk about her feelings. She is beginning to have suicidal thoughts.
- Umar, a Grade 10 student, and his family recently arrived in Canada from a country in political turmoil. As refugees, the transition from their home to this new country has been extremely stressful. Shortly after the family settled into an apartment, his 18-year-old sister began to act strangely, crying without explanation, muttering to herself, leaving home and walking for hours at a time. The parents speaks little English and do not know anyone else from their country of origin. They are ashamed to tell anyone outside the family about the sister’s problems since mental illness carries a huge stigma in their culture. They have sworn their son to secrecy. He comes to school everyday with a stomach ache, sitting silently and speaking to no one. He is unable to concentrate on his school work.