Home alone – depression highest for those living alone
23 Mar 2012
The number of people living on their own has doubled, over the last three decades, to one in three in the UK and US. New research published in BioMed Central’s open access journal BMC Public Health shows that the risk of depression, measured by people taking antidepressants, is almost 80% higher for those living alone compared to people living in any kind of social or family group.
For women a third of this risk was attributable to sociodemographic factors, such as lack of education and low income. For men the biggest contributing factors included poor job climate, lack of support at the work place or in their private lives, and heavy drinking.
It is known that living alone can increase the risk of mental health problems for the elderly, and for single parents, but little is known about the effects of isolation on working-age people. Researchers in Finland followed 3500 working-aged men and women for seven years and compared their living arrangements with psychosocial, sociodemographic, and health risk factors, including smoking, heavy drinking and low physical activity, to antidepressant use. Information on antidepressant medication was taken from the National Prescription Register.
Dr Laura Pulkki-Råback, who conducted the research at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, explained, “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.”
She continued, “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.”
While this study clearly identifies some of the factors which increase the risk of depression for people who live alone, over half the increase in risk is still unexplained. The researchers suggest that this may be due to feelings of alienation from society, lack of trust, or difficulties arising from critical life events. All these factors need to be addressed in order to begin understanding and reducing the incidence of depression amongst working age people.
Dr Hilary Glover
Scientific Press Officer, BioMed Central
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Notes to Editors
1. Living alone and antidepressant medication use: a prospective study in a working-age population
Laura Pulkki-Raback, Mika Kivimaki, Kirsi Ahola, Kaisla Joutsenniemi, Marko Elovainio, Helena Rossi, Sampsa Puttonen, Seppo Koskinen, Erkki Isometsa, Jouko Lonnqvist and Marianna Virtanen
BMC Public Health 2012, 12:236 doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-236
Please name the journal in any story you write. If you are writing for the web, please link to the article. All articles are available free of charge, according to BioMed Central’s open access policy.
Article citation and URL available on request on the day of publication.
2. BMC Public Health is an open access, peer-reviewed journal that considers articles on the epidemiology of disease and the understanding of all aspects of public health. The journal has a special focus on the social determinants of health, the environmental, behavioral, and occupational correlates of health and disease, and the impact of health policies, practices and interventions on the community.