Psychopathological effects of solitary confinement

Am J Psychiatry. 1983 Nov;140(11):1450-4. doi: 10.1176/ajp.140.11.1450.


Psychopathological reactions to solitary confinement were extensively described by nineteenth-century German clinicians. In the United States there have been several legal challenges to the use of solitary confinement, based on allegations that it may have serious psychiatric consequences. The recent medical literature on this subject has been scarce. The author describes psychiatric symptoms that appeared in 14 inmates exposed to periods of increased social isolation and sensory restriction in solitary confinement and asserts that these symptoms form a major, clinically distinguishable psychiatric syndrome.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety Disorders / etiology
  • Fantasy
  • Hallucinations / etiology
  • Humans
  • Jurisprudence
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / etiology*
  • Perceptual Disorders / etiology
  • Perceptual Distortion
  • Prisoners / psychology*
  • Social Isolation*
  • United States