Is Loneliness Fueling Common Mental Disorders?

The researchers in their new study have found a surprising link between people who live alone and the increased risk of developing common mental disorders. They have also found the main underlying cause behind this relationship.

Common mental disorders also known as mental health risks include anxiety and substance use disorders. Some of the researches support the fact that almost one-third of the people will surely experience common mental health disorders in their lifetime.

This could affect an individual up to a great extent however; it may also put some negative effect on the society too. As recently common health disorders have become a highlighting issue, researchers are keen to work on all the factors contributing to mental health.

During their investigation, they have recently targeted the relationship between solitude and mental health.

The findings are published in the journal PLOS ONE. The research authors have found out that this can target all age groups irrespective of their sex and the root cause of this is loneliness.

An increasing trend of living alone

It has been observed that especially in the western part of the world the trend for living alone has been increasing steadily in the past few decades and it includes a number of reasons like increased divorce rates, aging, population, and people who are intending marrying in their older age.

There are many previous studies who have already worked on this relationship; however, their study was restricted to only the older age group. Also, those studies just targeted one common mental health disorder that is depression which is not enough to explain the relationship.

The previous studies have not also targeted the factors which might influence the relationship, for example, people who live alone are usually overweight, lack social bonding and are more into smoking and drugs. Researchers were eager to know that if any of these was the root cause of common mental health disorders.

Researchers tried their best to fill these gaps in their recent research. They started researching for links between living alone and common mental health disorder in general and the factors which might be responsible for this surprising relationship.

What does the data say?

Data on Common Mental Disorders
Mental Health Foundation

In order to carry out their research, researchers from the University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines in France studied the data of 20,503 individuals aging from 16 to 74 living in England. The data was collected from three National Psychiatric Morbidity surveys which took place in 1993, 2000, and 2007.

Participants were asked to complete Clinical Interview Schedule-Revised questionnaires so that they could know whether the participants faced any neurotic symptoms last week or not.

The data was collected with a large variety, including height, weight, alcohol and drug use, feelings of lowliness, level of education, social support and employment status. In 1993 only 8.8% of people lived alone while in 2000 it rose up to 9.8% and then to 10.7% in 2007. As expected the researchers concluded that the number of people living alone has steadily increased in the past decade

Their data analysis also proved that there is a strong bond between living alone and the increased chances of developing common mental health disorders. Almost a similar result was observed in all three surveys.

In 1993 common mental health disorder was found to be more common in 19.9% population living alone as compared to 13.6% population who were not living alone. Then again a comparison was done of a survey in 2000 which showed the result of 23.1% to 15.5% while the data of 2007 showed a result of 24.4% versus 15.4%.

Is loneliness an epidemic?

Time Magazine

When researchers further researched the issue, they found that there was an association of 84% with loneliness. Previously, many studies emerged which showed a strong relationship between depression anxiety. The other researchers, on the other hand, researched whether loneliness tends to increase the mortality risk or not.

This finding holds immense importance in what some scientists refers to it as ‘loneliness epidemic’. Lately, as common mental disorders have been a growing concern, there is a dire need to understand its risk factors which might help in controlling the situation.

Obviously, not everyone who lives alone is lonely but who are, necessary steps have been arranged to tackle the situation at the right time. These steps include one to one therapies, animal-based interventions, and social care provisions.

Now the thing which is needed to concern about is the easy ways by which people can have access to these tools.

There were some limitations to the study as well, for example, it was a cross-sectional study that is it worked on a group of people at one point in time. The researchers are now planning to further extend the study by working and knowing the results working on longitudinal cross-section study.

Although a relationship has been established but still much more is needed to be found for instance to know the effect and cause of this relationship. The earlier studies support the new results, but the new studies show a much more stable relationship between mental health and living alone across time. It also shows that this relation is not only restricted to older age group and loneliness plays an important role in our lives.

Adeena Tariq

Adeena's professional life has been mostly in hospital management, while studying international business in college. Of course, she now covers topics for us in health.

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