According to new research, living alone can increase a person’s risk of developing depression. During the pandemic, many people found themselves isolated and, as the data shows, rates of depression skyrocketed. But does living alone predispose you to depression? And if living alone isn’t a choice but more a necessity, what can you do to combat potential depression?
Is depression linked to loneliness?
Loneliness is a common feeling that many people experience at some point in their lives. It can be caused by a variety of factors, such as a lack of social support, a loss of a loved one, or a change in circumstances that leads to a feeling of isolation. Whilst loneliness is a normal part of the human experience, it can also have negative consequences upon our mental health, including an increased risk of depression.
Whilst there are many factors that can contribute to the development of depression, loneliness is considered to be a significant risk factor. Research has shown that people who report feeling lonely are more likely to develop depression than those who have strong social connections. This is thought to be because loneliness can lead to a sense of isolation and alienation, which can make it more difficult to cope with stress and negative emotions, as well as combat depression. Additionally, loneliness can make it more difficult to engage in healthy behaviours, such as exercise and self-care, and this can further contribute to depression.
Living alone and depression – what is the link?
During the pandemic, rates of anxiety and depression in Australia increased dramatically, with one in five Australians reporting feelings of depression in 2020/21. Though not the sole cause for the rise in rates of depression, loneliness due to social isolation is thought to be a significant factor in the increase. New studies have shown that living alone can increase the risk of depression by 42%. These studies also showed that some people are more at risk than others:
“In terms of demographics, analysis of data indicated that living alone increases the risk of developing depression more for men than women, older than younger, and rural than urban people.”
One reason for this increased risk is that people who live alone may have fewer social connections and less social support. Social support is an important protective factor against depression, as it can provide emotional and practical assistance, as well as a sense of belonging and validation. People who live alone may also have fewer opportunities for social interaction.
Another factor that may contribute to the increased risk of depression among people who live alone is that they may have more difficulty managing daily stressors and challenges. For example, without a partner, family, or roommates to share responsibilities with, those who live alone may have more difficulty managing household chores, cooking, and other daily tasks. They also may have more difficulty coping with life stressors such as financial difficulties or health problems.
It is important to note that living alone is not a direct cause of depression, and not all people who live alone experience depression. Also, living with others may not be a protection from developing depression for some people. There are many factors that contribute to the development of depression, and its causes are different for everyone.
Ways to reduce loneliness and risk of depression
If you live alone, whether by choice or by circumstances, the news of the increased risk of depression shouldn’t be cause for alarm. Many people who live alone do so without going on to develop depression and it’s important to remember that your mental health is a complicated thing that has roots in many different circumstances, events, and even genetics.
If you’re worried about your risk of developing depression due to loneliness, there is good news – there are a range of very effective strategies for maintaining your mental health and thriving, even if you’re living alone. Here are 10 of the top ways to decrease loneliness and the risk of depression:
- Connect with others: Reach out to friends, family, and loved ones. Make an effort to reconnect with people you haven’t spoken to in a while. Consider joining a social club or group that aligns with your interests.
- Volunteer: Giving back to your community can help you feel more connected to others and can provide a sense of purpose.
- Get a pet: Pets can provide companionship and can be a source of comfort.
- Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness practices like meditation and yoga can help you focus on the present moment and can reduce feelings of loneliness.
- Connect with nature: Spending time outdoors in nature has been shown to have a positive impact on mental health and can help reduce feelings of loneliness.
- Seek professional help: If you’re struggling with loneliness, consider seeking help from a counsellor or psychologist. They can help you understand and address the underlying causes of your loneliness. In fact, counselling is the number one most effective treatment for depression. Even if you aren’t suffering from chronic depression, counselling can help to safeguard and maintain your mental health and tackle any feelings of loneliness or isolation you might be feeling.
- Engage in hobbies: Hobbies and interests can help you connect with others who share your passions and can provide a sense of purpose.
- Be open to new connections: Start a conversation with a stranger in a shop or cafe, make small talk with a colleague, or reach out to new people on social media. Try to find social media groups with a shared common interest, and ask if anyone is local. This is a great way to make new connections that may even lead to meeting in person down the track. Making new friends can do wonders for your mental health and can enhance your support network.
- Take care of yourself: Eat well, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep. Self-care is important for maintaining good physical and mental health.
- Practice gratitude: Take time to appreciate what you have and the people in your life. This can help shift your focus from what you lack to what you have, which can reduce feelings of loneliness.
It’s important to remember that reducing loneliness takes time and effort, and it may not happen overnight. But with the right approach and a little bit of patience, you can reduce feelings of loneliness, improve your overall well-being, and reduce your risk of developing depression.
If you’re experiencing feelings of loneliness or depression and are looking for more ways to improve your mental health – including decreasing feelings of isolation – reach out to Integrated Health Specialists today!