Depression highest among those living alone

Depression highest among those living alone

By Margaret Rogers

A recent study clearly identifies some of the factors which increase the risk of depression for people who live alone.  These findings hold particular significance as, over the past thirty years, the number of people in the UK who live alone has doubled.

The research can be found in the open access journal BMC Public Health and was conducted by Dr Laura Pulkki-Raback of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.

The number of people living alone stands at one in three and the chance that they will need to take antidepressants is almost 80% higher than that of people living in either a family or social group, according to the study.

The risks are different for men and women.  For women a third of the risk of depression is attributed to socio-demographic factors.  Such factors are lack of education or low income.  For men the highest contributory factors are lack of support at work, poor job climate, heavy drinking, and lack of support in their private lives.

Until now, very little has been known about the effects of living alone on people of working age.  Previous study has looked at the effects this can have on mental health for the elderly and for single parents.

Over a period of seven years researchers studied 3,500 working-aged men and women.  They compared their living arrangements with socio-demographic, psychosocial, and health risk factors.  These risk factors include smoking, low physical activity, drinking and antidepressant use. 

Dr Pulkki-Raback said ‘Our study shows that people living alone have an increased risk of developing depression.  Overall there was no difference in the increased risk of depression by living alone for either men or women.  Poor housing conditions, especially for women, and a lack of social support, particularly for men, were the main contributory factors to this increased risk.’

‘This kind of study usually underestimates risk because the people who are at the most risk tend to be the people who are least likely to complete the follow-up.  We also were not able to judge how common untreated depression was,’ she added.

Although this study clearly demonstrates some of the risk factors of depression for people living alone, over half of the increased risk is still unknown.  This may be due to a feeling of alienation from society, lack of trust or difficulties around critical life events, the researchers suggest.  They also suggest that in order to understand and reduce the incidence of depression among people of working age these factors need to be addressed.

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