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According to a new study conducted by UCL researchers, loneliness is responsible for 18% of depression in people over 50 in England.

The results, published in The Lancet Psychiatry, suggest that almost one in five cases of depression in older adults could be prevented if loneliness was eliminated.

The researchers found that people’s subjective experiences of loneliness contributed to depression up to 12 years later, regardless of more objective measures of social isolation.

The lead author Dr. Gemma Lewis (UCL Psychiatry) said, “We found that whether people consider themselves lonely is a bigger risk factor for depression than how many people they socialize and support. The results suggest that it’s not just that going to spend time with them. ” other people who are important but have meaningful relationships and camaraderie. “

The researchers reviewed data from 4,211 participants in the English longitudinal study on aging aged 52 and over who had answered questions about their experiences with loneliness, social engagement and support, as well as depressive symptoms at regular intervals over a period of 12 years.

To measure loneliness, participants were asked three questions about lack of camaraderie, exuberance, and isolation, and their answers were summarized on a seven-point scale to form a loneliness rating.

Each one point increase on the loneliness scale represented a doubling of the likelihood of depression (based on a clinical threshold of depressive symptoms rather than diagnosis). Researchers considered depression and loneliness at the start of the study to reduce the possibility that depression was responsible for the increasing feelings of loneliness that have been reported.

The researchers found that in people with greater loneliness, depressive symptoms increased over time, suggesting that loneliness led to future depression.

As part of their analysis, the researchers looked at the proportion of depression that was caused by loneliness and found that 18% of cases of depression were due to loneliness (measured a year earlier).

First author Siu Long Lee, who led the study for an MSc in UCL Psychiatry, said: “Health professionals who work with older people who say they are lonely should know they are at risk of depression Interventions such as social prescribing, social skills training, and psychological therapies that target negative feelings of loneliness can be important for the mental health of lonely older adults. “

Dr. Lewis added, “Our study has important public health implications as it suggests that community-based approaches to reducing loneliness could lower rates of depression. Building relationships, meaningful connections, and a sense of belonging may be more important than just that Increase the amount of time people spend with others. “

Robin Hewings, director of campaigns, policy and research for the Campaign to End Loneliness, said, “This important study adds to our understanding of the very serious effects of loneliness on our mental and physical health. The author’s findings show that almost one in five cases of depression in the elderly could potentially be prevented if loneliness were eliminated. This only contributes to greater societal action. In our daily lives, this can mean reaching out to those around us.

“At the same time, it is vital that we implement the government’s groundbreaking loneliness strategy and ensure that loneliness services have the resources they need.”

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More information:
The Lancet Psychiatry (2020). DOI: 10.1016 / S2215-0366 (20) 30383-7 Provided by University College London

Quote: Loneliness, a leading cause of depression in older adults (2020, November 9th), accessed November 10, 2020 from

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