Solitary confinement is well recognised as a highly effective form of psychological punishment. It is used in prisons as a further punishment for inmates who are guilty of, or who are suspected of, committing further crimes whilst inside. Prisoners are also put in solitary confinement for their own protection if the circumstances warrant such a move. But what are solitary confinement effects and is it psychologically damaging to spend time in solitary confinement?
Humans are fundamentally social creatures. We thrive on companionship and when this is taken away from us, it is very difficult to deal with. Most people can cope when on forced to be on their own for a few days, but if they are kept in solitary confinement for weeks, months, or worse, years, the lack of stimulation can cause all kinds of psychological problems.
Solitary confinement is a form of sensory deprivation, albeit not as severe as being locked up in an unlit water filled tank. When used in prisons, solitary confinement means prisoners are locked up in their cell for twenty-three hours per day and only allowed out for one hour’s exercise—and even this is invariably in an isolated and enclosed area away from other inmates. Such treatment can be extremely difficult for anyone to endure and research has proven that unlike other forms of torture, being isolated in solitary confinement causes a very wide ranging number of damaging psychological effects on the human mind.
What are solitary confinement effects on the mind?
Being placed in solitary confinement for an extended period of time can cause depression, panic attacks, delusional behaviour, and psychosis. There is even a recognised condition that can arise as a result of being placed in solitary confinement called “chronophobia”, also referred to as prison neurosis. Chronophobia is a fear of time, or in this context, a fear of the duration or immensity of time.
Chronophobia can lead to a more serious psychological disorder called Ganser Syndrome, although this is a rare occurrence. Also called prison psychosis, Ganser Disorder can arise as a result of extreme psychological stress from being placed in solitary confinement. The prisoner will begin to exhibit the symptoms of a serious illness, even though they are not actually ill. They might report experiencing hallucinations or begin making odd statements in response to normal questions.
When a prisoner is placed in solitary confinement for a long period of time, the results can be devastating. When external stimuli are taken away and the prisoner has almost no contact with the outside world or other human beings, they begin to lose the ability to connect with the world and everything in it.
Other people control every aspect of the prisoner’s existence when they are in solitary confinement and it is not uncommon for prisoners in long term solitary to suffer a complete mental breakdown. A lengthy spell in solitary confinement affects a person’s ability to make decisions and think for themselves, so when the day comes for the prisoner to re-enter the world once again, they are often psychologically damaged and unable to cope.