A new study has concluded that living is only related to common mental disorders. The authors have also identified the main driver of this worrying relationship.
The researchers examined the links between mental health and life alone.
Some common mental disorders (CMD) include mood disorders, anxiety and substance use disorders.
According to some studies, almost a third of people will experience a CMD in their life.
These conditions can have a significant impact on the individual, of course, but due to their high prevalence, they also affect society in general.
Due to the widespread influence of CMDs, scientists are eager to understand the full range of risk factors that contribute to mental health.
In recent years, scientists have investigated whether living alone could be one of those risk factors.
A new study, whose results now appear in the journal PLUS ONE, takes a new look at this issue. The study authors conclude that there is a relationship between living alone and CMD disease. They also discover that it affects all age groups and all sexes, and that, in the first place, loneliness is the engine.
The number of people living alone is constantly growing in much of the western world; This is due to a number of reasons, including the aging of the population, people who tend to marry at an older age and increasing divorce rates.
Researchers have already analyzed the relationship between CMDs and living alone, but most have focused on older adults, so their findings may not apply to other age groups.
In addition, previous studies generally focused on a single mental condition: depression. This may not provide a complete image.
The previous work has not quantified how other factors influence this relationship; For example, people living alone are more likely to be overweight, smoke, use drugs and lack social support. So which of them, if any, is the main driver of CMDs?
The authors of the new study tried to fill some of these gaps. They looked for links between life alone and CMD disease in general, and investigated what factors seemed to be influencing the relationship.
Looking at the data
To investigate, scientists from the University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines in France analyzed data from 20,503 adults aged 16 to 74 living in England. The data comes from three National Psychiatric Morbidity Surveys that experts conducted in 1993, 2000 and 2007.
Participants completed the Clinical Interview Program questionnaires, which evaluated whether they had experienced neurotic symptoms during the previous week.
The surveys also collected data on a series of variables, such as height and weight, education level, employment status, alcohol and drug use, social support and feelings of loneliness.
As expected, the authors found that the number of people living alone has grown steadily. In 1993, 8.8% lived alone. This compares with 9.8% in 2000 and 10.7% in 2007.
Their analysis also showed that in all age groups and sexes, there was a significant association between living alone and having a CMD. The size of this relationship was quite similar in the three surveys.
CMDs were more common in those who lived alone than in those who did not live alone:
1993: 19.9% vs. 13.6%
2000: 23.2% vs. 15.5%
2007: 24.7% vs. 15.4%
The problem of loneliness
When scientists deepened the relationship between CMDs and life alone, they found that loneliness accounted for 84% of the association.
Previous studies had shown that loneliness is related to depression and anxiety. Others had still investigated whether loneliness could increase the risk of mortality.
During what some experts call a "loneliness epidemic," this finding is particularly important. Similarly, because mental health is a growing concern, understanding the risk factors associated with CMDs could help change the course of the situation.
Of course, not everyone who lives alone feels alone. However, for those who are, there are interventions available to address loneliness. These may include talk therapies, social care arrangements and animal-based interventions.
The next step, and the most difficult, is to find ways to ensure that people in need have access to these tools.
Researchers recognize certain limitations of the study. For example, this was a cross-sectional study, which means that he examined a snapshot of people at any given time. The authors request longitudinal studies to determine how this relationship could develop over time.
As with any study of this nature, it is not possible to assess the cause and effect: Did a person develop a CMD because he lived alone, or developed a CMD and then decided to live alone?
Or, perhaps, someone with a predisposition to CMDs is more likely to want to live alone. As always, scientists will have to do more work to fill in the gaps.
The previous findings support these results, but the new findings also go a few steps further; they show that the relationship between mental health and living is only stable over time, that the link is not restricted to older adults, and that loneliness plays a fundamental role.