Loneliness is associated with common mental disorders

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Identifying and diagnosing a mental health issue is never an easy process.

Most mental health struggles do not live in isolation, and many of us have negative thought or mood tendencies that, while challenging, do not qualify as a disorder.

Human closeness is fundamental to our mental well-being; without it, any number of pathologies could plague us.

The loneliness that arises from a lack of human closeness could easily bring about any number of presenting problems.

Human beings are social species which require safe and secure social surroundings to survive.

Satisfying social relationships are essential for mental and physical well beings.

Impaired social relationship can lead to loneliness.

Since the time of dawn, loneliness is perceived as a global human phenomenon.

Loneliness can lead to various psychiatric disorders like depression, alcohol abuse, child abuse, sleep problems, personality disorders and Alzheimer’s disease.

It also leads to various physical disorders like diabetes, autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and cardiovascular diseases like coronary heart disease, hypertension (HTN), obesity, physiological aging, cancer, poor hearing and poor health.

Left untended, loneliness can have serious consequences for mental and physical health of people.

Therefore it is important to intervene at the right time to prevent loneliness, so that physical and mental health of patients is maintained.

Loneliness is a painful universal phenomenon that has an evolutionary basis. Loneliness reminds us of the pain and warns us of the threat of becoming isolated.

Loneliness is the absence of imperative social relations and lack of affection in current social relationships [1].

Loneliness is one of the main indicators of social well-being.

Loneliness is caused not by being alone, but by being without some definite needed relationship or set of relationships.

Research addressing loneliness has increased dramatically over the past 2 decades; however, despite the mental health risks associated with being lonely, the relationship between loneliness and psychiatric disorders has not been sufficiently explored 

Loneliness is a common experience with 80% of population below 18 years of age and 40% of population above 65 years of age report loneliness at least sometimes in their life [2,68].

Loneliness is generally reported more among adolescents and young children, contrary to the myth that it occurs more in elderly.

The reason for this is that elder people have definite copying skills and can adjust accordingly to solitude, while as adolescents lack definite copying skills and adolescent period is the time of life when being accepted and loved is of such major importance to the formation of one’s identity.

However elderly who have physical illness and disability report higher prevalence of loneliness, compared to elderly without physical illness and disability [1,9,10]

In India elderly patient population is increasing and their psychological problems are on a rise. India is destined to become the second largest population of elderly people in the coming years.

Therefore it is necessary to intervene at the right time to prevent the psychological problems and physical disorders arising due to affects of loneliness in elderly population [3]. Further loneliness gradually diminishes through the middle adult years, and then again increases in old age (i.e., ≥70 years) [7].

Risk factors: The risk factors associated with loneliness include being female, being widowed, living alone, being aged, health factors, material resources and a limited number of ‘social’ resources [11].

Scales for measuring loneliness

Loneliness is measured by various scales like UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) Loneliness Scale [12], Three-Item Loneliness Scale [12] and De Jong Gierveld Loneliness scale [13].

Types of loneliness

There are 3 types of loneliness i.e. situational loneliness, developmental loneliness and internal loneliness [14].

  1. Situational Loneliness: The various factors associated with situational loneliness are environmental factors (unpleasant experiences, discrepancy between the levels of his/her needs), migration of people, inter personal conflicts, accidents and disasters, etc [14].
  2. Developmental Loneliness: The various factors associated with developmental loneliness are personal inadequacies, developmental deficits, significant separations, poverty, living arrangements, and physical/psychological disabilities [14].
  3. Internal Loneliness: The various factors associated with internal loneliness are personality factors, locus of control, mental distress, low self-esteem, guilt feeling , and poor coping strategies with situations [14].

Further Weiss et al., reported 2 types of loneliness i.e. emotional and social loneliness. Emotional loneliness defined by the absence of an attachment figure and social isolation, characterized by the absence of a social network [15].

The study ……Living alone is positively associated with common mental disorders, regardless of age and sex, according to a study published May 1, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Louis Jacob from University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, France, and colleagues.

The proportion of people living alone has increased in recent years due to population aging, decreasing marriage rates and lowering fertility.

Previous studies have investigated the link between living alone and mental disorders but have generally been conducted in elderly populations and are not generalizable to younger adults.

In the new study, researchers used data on 20,500 individuals aged 16-64 living in England who participated in the 1993, 2000, or 2007 National Psychiatric Morbidity Surveys.

Whether a person had a common mental disorder (CMD) was assessed using the Clinical Interview Schedule-Revised (CIS-R), a questionnaire focusing on neurotic symptoms during the previous week.

In addition to the number of people living in a household, data was available on factors including weight and height, alcohol dependence, drug use, social support, and loneliness.

The prevalence of people living alone in 1993, 2000, and 2007 was 8.8%, 9.8%, and 10.7%. In those years, the rates of CMD was 14.1%, 16.3%, and 16.4%. In all years, all ages, and both men and women, there was a positive association between living alone and CMD (1993 odds ratio 1.69; 2000 OR 1.63; 2007 OR 1.88).

In different subgroups of people, living alone increased a person’s risk for CMD by 1.39 to 2.43 times.

Overall, loneliness explained 84% of the living alone-CMD association.

The authors suggest that interventions which tackle loneliness might also aid the mental wellbeing of individuals living alone.

Jacob summarizes: “Living alone is positively associated with common mental disorders in the general population in England.”

More information: Jacob L, Haro JM, Koyanagi A (2019) Relationship between living alone and common mental disorders in the 1993, 2000 and 2007 National Psychiatric Morbidity Surveys. PLoS ONE 14(5): e0215182. doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0215182
Journal information: PLoS ONE
Provided by Public Library of Science

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