Are You Touch Deprived?

An Electronic Mental Health Newsletter from Joel I. Kimmel, Ph.D., P.A. & Associates
Volume 15, Number 5

(Photo by Humberto Arellano)

Now that we are emerging from the pandemic, we are beginning to clearly notice what we truly missed during the lockdown and social distancing. Often, we were told to be careful about what and who we touched and to make sure we disinfected. These behaviors resulted in the loss of touch or physical contact with others. Those who have been working from home, living alone, and others may have found themselves overly depressed, lonely, and anxious. As more of us have gotten vaccinated, we can truly look at the mental health damage created by the coronavirus. One of these casualties is Touch Deprivation and how important contact with another is good for mental health.

This month’s E-Letter provides information on understanding Touch Deprivation and offers some strategies to deal with it.

KimmelPsychology has provided a monthly e-Letter for over 16 years, that is educational, informative, and helpful. Topics change every month but the format remains the same; brief information about the topic as well as suggestions for improvement. The topic of interest can be downloaded and used as a handout or a “tip sheet”.

Downloads of this handout and others from our previous E-Letters can be found on our website, KimmelPsychology/e_Letters. We encourage you to read and download them. You are invited to email your thoughts to Dr. Kimmel at [email protected].

Make sure to read the latest blog addition near the end of this E-Letter.


We are in the final stages of redoing our website and are hoping for it to go live by the end of the month. Look for a friendlier and easier to read e-Letter dedicated to timely articles. There will also be a separate blog section that will include all the blogs written over the past 15 years. We hope that you will enjoy the new site and invite your comments.

We are also pleased to announce that Dr. Camille Benitto, Psy.D. has joined our practice. Dr. Benitto is a Clinical Psychologist who has been providing therapy for over seven years. While she likes to work with young adults, she has experience working with children, adults, and couples. She takes an empathetic approach and is intentional about creating a safe, nonjudgmental space to meet clients in whatever stage of their therapeutic journey. Using evidenced-based techniques, her work promotes insight and empowerment of her clients to achieve their therapeutic goals. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Benitto, call our office at 954 755-2885.

KimmelPsychology has committed ourselves to being available for anyone who is in need of support, therapy, psychiatric consultation, professional coaching, and online psychological and psychoeducational evaluations. We practice telehealth and have recently returned to safe, in-office visits on a limited basis. We can be reached by calling our office at 954 755-2885 or by going to the Our Staff page on our website,

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(Photo by Humberto Arellano)
(Photo by Zoe)

Imagine what it would be like if you were never touched by another person or pet. What would it be like not to receive hugs, a pat on the back, a playful shove, a high five, a kiss, a cat sitting on your chest, or a dog rubbing up to you? How sterile and lonely would your world be? How would you know that others care about you?

Touch deprivation or “skin hunger” happens when a person has no physical contact with another person especially when they crave human touch. Since birth, touch is critical. Mothers of newborns are given their babies immediately to hold and to touch to provide reassurance and comfort. Another example is the famous study on affection done by psychologist Harry Harlow. He exposed baby rhesus monkeys to two wire frames of “mothers”; one was covered in soft terrycloth and offered no food and the other was made of wire but would give nourishment. The baby monkeys spent significantly more time with the cloth “mother” than the “wire mother”. While the baby monkeys went to the “wire mother” for food, they preferred to spend more time with the “cloth mother” indicating a need for touch and affection. We are wired for touch and it is a primary need throughout our lifetime.

Biologically, skin is the largest organ in our body and communicates with the brain. When a touch is pleasant, the hormone, Oxytocin, is released leading to good feelings. When touch is deprived, the stress hormone, Cortisol, is released leading to anxiety, high blood pressure, muscle tension, and increased heart rate.

During the pandemic, we were urged to isolate and to avoid touching others for fear of getting the virus. For over a year, we lived with minimal or no contact. We were lucky if we got an elbow bump as people still needed to touch. Those of us who were unlucky found ourselves sad, depressed, and often exhausted. Hopefully, we learned to appreciate the importance of being touched.

Touch, therefore, is not a luxury but a need. It is our way of connecting with others through physical contact. If untouched, children in orphanages often grow up to have attachment problems. The elderly in nursing homes often age quicker and deteriorate when untouched. The sense of loneliness and isolation due to being untouched can result in major adverse psychological problems.

As we emerge from the pandemic, we are in a mental health crisis due to the disruption in our lives, the sense of loss of our freedoms, and the lack of touch for a prolonged period of time. Here are some strategies to use to eliminate touch deprivation:

  • Hug, sit next to, cuddle with those whom you live with
  • Sleep with a weighted blanket to feel comforted
  • Give yourself a massage or get one from a vaccinated professional
  • Sleep with a body pillow
  • Get and keep a pet
  • Hug yourself, a pet, an object, or a vaccinated friend
  • Exercise, dance, play sports, practice yoga
  • Meet new people in online groups, talk to your neighbors, keep in contact with others

We offer the following information on: Are You Touch Deprived? This information can be downloaded as a handout at KimmelPsychology e-Letters.


Hands, touching hands
Reaching out, touching me, touching you
Sweet Caroline
Good times never seemed so good … Neil Diamond


  • Touch is a basic human need just like essential food and water
  • From birth on, mothers are encouraged to hold their newborns and comfort them with touch
  • Touch deprivation is also known as skin hunger or touch starvation
  • Touch is important in decreasing loneliness, comforting others, and building good relationships
  • A famous study by Harry Harlow found that baby monkeys preferred a “cloth mother” than a “wire mother” indicating the importance of touch and comfort
  • Touch deprivation is a condition characterized by not getting enough physical contact despite having a craving to be touched by someone
  • Hugging, shaking hands, a pat on the back, and giving high fives are ways we interact and connect with others by touching
  • Covid-19 has deprived us globally of being able to be touched
  • During Covid-19, many people have missed out on handshakes and friendly hugs while others who are dating, miss out on holding hands and sensual hugs
  • Biologically, when touch is pleasant, the brain releases oxytocin which makes you fegood and decreases anxiety
  • When touch is deprived, the brain releases the stress hormone, Cortisol, which increases heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension
  • Symptoms of touch deprivation include:
  • Loneliness
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Withdrawal and isolation
  • Touch deprivation often occurs in orphanages, hospitals, and nursing homes


  • If you live with others, make sure to hug, touch, shake hands, sit next to them
  • Spend some quality time with pets
  • Dancing, singing, and doing yoga can raise your oxytocin level
  • If safe, get a massage from a professional or loved one
  • If not safe, meet new people by joining online groups, talk to safely distanced neighbors or friends, practice self-massage
  • Sleep with a weighted blanket or body pillow
  • Seek professional help if you feel overwhelming loneliness, depression, or anxiety