Mental disorders are more likely in people who live alone

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Researchers say that current social norms leave many adults living by themselves

Living alone, which many consumers view as a rite of passage, could come with some mental health concerns.

A new study found that, regardless of age or gender, people who live alone are at an increased risk of developing a mental disorder.

“Our study results indicate that living alone may be a risk factor for [common mental disorders] regardless of age and sex and that loneliness may be an important mediating factor,” the authors wrote. “Clinicians should be aware that those living alone have a higher prevalence of [common mental disorders] and that this may largely be explained by loneliness.”

Combating loneliness

To see how living alone affected the likelihood of a mental disorder, the researchers evaluated over 20,000 responses to the National Psychiatric Morbidity Survey in England that were submitted in 1993, 2000, and 2007.

In addition to questions about their current living situation and mental health, participants reported on their social support, dependence on alcohol and drugs, loneliness, current living arrangements, and height and weight.

To gauge participants’ mental health standing, the researchers utilized the Clinical Interview Schedule-Revised (CIS-R), which allowed them to assess participants’ current behaviors and beliefs and how closely they lined up with common mental disorders (CMDs).

The researchers note that current social norms have made it more common for people to live by themselves. With fewer people getting married and having kids, and the population of the oldest demographic increasing, researchers saw the number of solo dwellers increase with each iteration of the survey.

As the number of people living alone grew, the percentage of those people who had mental disorders also grew. In 1993, less than nine percent of participants lived alone, while over 14 percent had a CMD. By 2007, nearly 11 percent of participants lived alone and nearly 16.5 percent identified with a common mental disorder.

Though the researchers found that these findings were consistent across all groups and genders, loneliness was the key in an overwhelming majority of the participants who had common mental disorders. According to the study, over 80 percent of participants’ mental disorders were linked to feelings of loneliness. The researchers hope that these findings inspire mental health professionals to implement initiatives that could help consumers tackle feelings of loneliness.

“Living alone is positively associated with common mental disorders in the general population in England,” said researcher Louis Jacob.

Staying social

Recent studies have explored how consumers are affected by loneliness and other mental health conditions. Researchers from Michigan Medicine found that adults between the ages of 50 and 80 years old who have health complications are more likely to feel isolated and lonely.

While taking trips outside can be beneficial in beating those lonely feelings, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and Stony Brook University found that observing users’ Facebook posts can be an effective predictor of depression.

“There’s a perception that using social media is not good for one’s mental health, but it may turn out to be an important tool for diagnosing, monitoring, and eventually treating it,” said lead researcher H. Andrew Schwartz. “Here, we’ve shown that it can be used with clinical records, a step toward improving mental health with social media.”

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